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Critics of this approach have raised a number of issues, which have, in turn, been taken up by campaigning organisations, including Trans Media Watch.


A key question around all press regulation – the question that Leveson attempted to resolve by putting press regulation on a statutory basis – is the extent to which it is, and is seen to be, independent of the publications regulated.

Clearly that is not the case in respect of the Guardian, FT or Independent. There are also issues with the two main regulatory bodies:

  • IPSO is financed by the Regulatory Funding Company (RFC) which is, in turn, funded by member publishers. This, according to IPSO, means that it is an independent organisation. Others, including Hacked Off, which campaigns for the full implementation of Leveson’s recommendations, dispute this.

Critics also highlight how the RFC Board regularly includes senior figures from the newspapers it is meant to regulate. This can include senior lawyers from newspapers. Or, as of June 2022, Lord Black of Brentwood, Deputy Chair, Telegraph Media.

  • IMPRESS receives funding through the Independent Press Regulation Trust (IPRT). The IPRT’s funding is, in turn, guaranteed by the Alexander Mosley Charitable Trust.  Both the IPRT and AMCT are registered charities that support public benefit causes. 

There has been some controversy over the fact that the AMCT was for a time chaired by Max Mosley, who had strong and, some might consider, hostile views to the established news media. However, both funding arrangements and IMPRESS itself are subject to scrutiny by the Press Recognition Panel.

In addition, the IMPRESS Board is drawn from a much wider, less media-focused pool than the IPSO Board.


‘Public interest’ is an exemption, which permits the press to override its code of conduct. There is concern that at least one of the justifications for this – that a story is a matter of public debate – is potentially circular. ‘Debate’ may be initiated by the press, and this perhaps explains why so many stories about trans people are presented as ‘the trans debate’.

Group Slurs

Press regulatory codes are broadly based in existing law which makes false or hateful comment about individuals risky (potentially libellous), but does not apply the same standard to groups. Or more precisely, generic groups. Because if a slur related to an identifiable group, such as TransActual, TransMediaWatch, or Hacked Off, that could constitute grounds for complaints.

However, “Trans Rights Activists”, as a group, is mostly unidentifiable. The same applies to ‘trans people’, ‘immigrants’, ‘Muslims’, etc.

There is some provision in English law around hate speech. However, this is not, of itself, an offence, but an add-on to other offences committed.

The Times – or any other publication – may therefore publish extensively about the alleged misdeeds of trans people in general; whereas were we to make any specific allegation about Times owner Rupert Murdoch, we would rapidly find ourselves in hot water.

This is reflected in the IPSO code, which highlights protected characteristics as facets of an individual identity that should not be referenced in a derogatory manner. However, only IMPRESS ask publications not to incite hatred on the basis of group characteristics. This is a significant area of difference between the two main codes.


Most codes suggest that there should be clear distinction between comment and news. This distinction is blurred in a number of significant ways:

  • Editorialising descriptors: newspapers are frequently given to describing any trans person who responds to an issue as a ‘Trans Rights Activist’ or a ‘trans extremist’, without any obvious justification for this. This colours how readers read and respond to articles.
  • Conflation: a recent story about a journalist being investigated by the newspaper for which he worked was headlined (paraphrase) ‘John Doe investigated AFTER trans rights row.’ This is technically accurate. The investigation was later in time than the earlier row. However, the two were wholly unrelated. A naïve reader would be led to conclude some linkage between the two.
  • Unbalanced reporting of opinion. Anti-trans positions are frequently reported as news by a newspaper giving extensive coverage to the views of anti-trans individuals or groups, often without corresponding views from trans people or allies for balance. Such coverage is technically accurate. However, the omission of counter-views creates an overall inaccurate picture – yet we are not aware of any case succeeding on such grounds.
  • There is a general exemption from accuracy requirements in pieces that are categorised as comment/opinion. This we believe to be disingenuous. A columnist making statements about the best leader for the Labour Party, or the ideal economic policy for the UK, is expressing opinion. A columnist stating that the Moon is made of cheese is going well beyond opinion, and just because that view appears in a comment piece should not exempt it from code provisions.

Reporting of complaints upheld

It has long been a source of dissatisfaction that even where a complaint is upheld, there is no requirement that the newspaper that ran the original false news give equal prominence to reporting that fact. At least, not under IPSO rules.

As currently written, IPSO rules mean that a publisher could run a front-page story accusing you of the most heinous crimes and then, some months later, print a retraction in a single paragraph at the bottom of page 6.

It is very obvious why the press endorses this approach. It is also arguably very unfair.

Locating Complaint Outcomes

Overall, few complaints appear to make it through the process, with IMPRESS logging fewer than a dozen per year in recent years.

IPSO, with greater complaint volumes, makes available a database of complaints. However, querying it is difficult and if you wish to interrogate it thematically, you may find this difficult.

The Guardian and the FT both publish the outcome of complaints. It is not at all clear that the Independent does this.