I wrote a relatively quick note to the BBC to point out the bias in their coverage of the Malawi incident. Below is the reply I received a couple of days ago. (The “reports carried by other media outlets” was a link to the New York Times) The original story hasn’t been changed and still mentions the “gay men“, a story published after I wrote to the BBC makes the same mistake and the language in the first full paragraph below, “one of the men”, is particularly disappointing. It looks as if they really do not “get it”.

Thanks for your e-mail.

I understand you feel our coverage of the conviction, and subsequent pardon of two gay men in Malawi has failed to acknowledge that one of the men, Tiwonge Chimbalanga, is transgender.

While I can’t comment upon reports carried by other media outlets, such as the one you link in your complaint, I can confirm that we’re committed to reporting all stories in an accurate, balanced and informative manner. We seek neither to promote nor denigrate any point of view and aim simply to report the relevant facts and allow our audience to make up their own minds.

I acknowledge your strong sentiments on this matter however, and with your complaint in mind I’d like to take this opportunity to assure you that I’ve recorded your comments onto our audience log. This is an internal daily report of audience feedback which is circulated to many BBC staff including senior management, producers and web editors.

The audience logs are seen as important documents that can help shape decisions about future programming and content.

Thanks once again for taking the time to contact us.

Sadly, this response is not atypical. Lynne Featherstone, Junior Minister for Equality, did not respond to comments on her blog about the issue when she made the same mistake beyond saying “thanks for all the information”. She did later make a post on Gender Identity and Human Rights which is welcome publicity for the issue, but I have to say the pretext of the post – that she was sending a “message of support” to a transgender conference – was rather thin at best. It would perhaps have been better to ensure the UK government was just as involved in the case of the Pakistani couple jailed because one of them is trans to show active partcipation rather than just messages of support. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Pakistani case where the transgender element was reported from the outset, did not attract the same coverage as gay issues.

I wonder how many trans people were at the Downing Street reception last night? Not many, I suspect – quite possibly none in fact. On the plus side, Terry and Bernard Reed picked up a well-deserved OBE in the Queen’s Birthday list.

In order of circulation, we’ll start with the largest which is of course The Sun who appear to have nothing to say at all. This isn’t surprising, being a right-wing tabloid, although they may just not have much on the web site – they seem to be short on news on the topic overall.
The Daily Mail, somewhere between broadsheets and tabloids and right wing has a short piece just saying there are calls for a review, so pretty neutral. Interesting they state they believe Derrick Bird didn’t spend time in prison following his theft conviction, the Mirror (below) state he spent 12 months inside. Mostly, they focus on why it took so long to stop Bird. Of course, he was never stopped – he killed himself when under no threat from police from what’s been reported – and if you look at other killing sprees it’s typical for them to end after many hours by suicide of the gunman so the police don’t appear to have been in any way lax.
The Daily Mirror is the other big-circulation tabloid and more left wing. It carries three pieces, two op-eds by “Voice of the Mirror” and another by Paul Routledge who asks “…why does anybody need to own…a high-powered sniper’s rifle?”. Derrick’s weapon was a .22, which is hardly “high powered” and the fact it’s fitted with a scope is irrelevant – anyone can buy and fit a scope. I’ve even put one on my low-powered doesn’t-need-a-firearms-certificate air rifle that I shoot paper targets with from 35m. Their final piece, the source of the 12 months in prison I mentioned above, is a fairly neutral statement of current laws. 12 months seems like an odd period of time to spend inside as I believe prisoners are usually let out early. Perhaps he had a 12 month sentence and it’s not clear how much of it he actually served? It’s not above most tabloids journalistic integrity to be lax with checking the facts in cases like this.
The Daily Star spend significant screen space on alleration in their main piece but only a very short piece on gun control, a faimilar theme developing amongst the right wing tabloids. That they need to put the quotes in More “news” here… at the bottom of the page is telling in itself.
We start on the broadsheets with The Telegraph, who have a longer piece which is predictably, being a right wing paper, fairly neutral. No obvious factual errors either, which is as would be expected from a newspaper of record… except for that fact that their mistaken expert sparked my interest in blogging about this in the first place.
Another right wing middle-market paper, The Diana Express… sorry, The Daily Express, breaks from the trend of other right wing papers in being somewhat more aggressive in it’s writeup, having found a random squaddie to say the laws should be tougher and there should be yearly psychological assessments, something which it probably completley impractical.
As anyone following the news will know, The Times is now behind a “pay-wall” so I’ve no idea what they think as is The Financial Times, although the latter appears not to cover the story in much detail. Similary, the Scottish Daily Record doesn’t go into as much depth as other papers for obvious reasons.
Then we come to the significantly more left-wing Guardian at number ten in the circulation figures. Being left wing, it is predictably saying the law isn’t tough enough and describes the .22 as “high calibre”. Perhaps it’s different for civilians, but from the small amount of military experience I have I’d regard anything in the .22/5.56mm range as small calibre. 7.62mm (0.3″) would be high calibre. It’s disappointing to see LIb Dem MP John Pugh fall into the trap of referring to the two weapons as a “formidable and devastating arsenal” when we don’t know for sure what the .22 was yet and even if we did, it’s hardly a “formidable arsenal”. If it is, perhaps my trips out on military training areas with a single SA-80 count as going around with a “small arsenal” and shooting paper targets in the back garden with an air rifle is considered “well armed”.
Those are the top ten, with The Independent falling just outside that at number eleven. I would include them too except they seem quite on the issue.

So, overall it appears there may not be much pressure to tighten up gun control laws, which is surprisingly not what I expected. Most papers seem to be running with “we already have some of the toughest laws in the world” and focusing, unfairly I think, on the police response to the shootings.

I started this blog with a vague idea that I’d critique any new legislation with the specific question “Does this law increase liberty?” There’s more than one way of addressing liberty and the kind I’m talking about is not the kind of freedom you get in Texas where you can carry whatever firearms you like, but the kind where you have the freedom to go walking down a street in Cumbria or anywhere else free from the fear of being shot at. Personally, I think parliament should be morally obliged to discuss that question for every bill it passes and maybe as a blog idea it will work, maybe not; there hasn’t been time for any legislation yet so nothing to work on.

I’m sure you’ve already guessed why I’m writing this now, but the specific theme is Moral Panic: That’s in most Social Science 101 courses and it’s often the enemy of Liberty. At most points in history you don’t have to look far for an example and it looks like we have another one in the making, characterised as usual by misleading information in the press and misinformation is no friend of Liberty. Let us turn to the Daily Telegraph, who are either engaging in some selective quoting or needing new experts as apparently “If you have no criminal record, there is no reason you can’t have a rifle that can drop someone at a distance of two miles”.

I’d like to know which weapons he’s referring to, because the maximum effective range of a British Army Sniper Rifle is 1.4km (Just under a mile) and the too-heavy-to-carry-but-more-powerful American one a range of 1.8km, about 1.1 miles. That’s effective range: just because it can propel a bullet a couple of miles it doesn’t mean it’s going to go where you want it to even if you’re a good enough shot – which unless you’re in the armed forces or Olympic shooting team, you’re not going to be – and it’s not likely to have enough energy to do much in the way of damage when it gets there.

No doubt we’ll see more of this sort of thing and it’ll put the image in the public’s mind of someone picking off targets a couple of miles away with a high power sniper rifle, when Derrick Bird actually carried a .22, most likely a rimfire powerful enough to be suitable for picking off foxes and other wildlife at ranges measured in tens or low hundreds of meters. Myself, if someone came at me with even a military .22″/5.56mm weapon and a shotgun I’d be more scared of the shotgun. You’ll probably survive a hit from a 5.56mm bullet but a shotgun cartridge makes one big mess of anything you point it at: Just ask the doctors dealing with the victims in Cumbria.

But, and here’s the but, it’s also unlikely a Conservative government will take any significant action on shotgun ownership even with a lot of pressure from Liberal Democrats as they’re extensively used by farmers, who tend to be conservative voters. You don’t want to piss off large elements of your core vote, that tends to cause backbench revolts.

So, here’s my prediction: So far, there doesn’t appear to have been anything anyone could have noticed beforehand that would have caused concerns about his mental state and his holding of a firearms certificate and the government in power is not going to want to do much about shotgun ownership. So we’ll end up with a gun control bill that restricts ownership of weapons that were not the major problem in this incident and tighten up controls on getting a firearms certificate, but the new controls will be ones that Derrick Bird would probably have passed anyway. Anyone that votes against the bill will be labelled as pro-guns and thus some sort of gun-crazy right-wing loon.

We must do something about gun control.

This is something!

Ergo, we must do this…?

It seems this was picked up by some news places last week, but with more ambiguous wording – “eunuch” rather than “transsexual”. However, and I suspect largely as a result of a mostly positive and trans-friendly news piece by CNN it looks like it’s being picked up again and it came to my notice after Pink News picked it up.

I shall observe how this plays out with interest, in light of the recent Malawi incident. On the subject of Malawi, I suspect there was some agneda-pushing going on by gay-rights groups. I don’t know what the situation is in other countries, but certainly in the UK the trans aspect is often overlooked if some group (Stonewall, I’m looking at you) think they can score more political points by portraying a couple as gay rather than one of them as trans. There was a lack of newspapers-of-record actually reporting that Tiwonge is transsexual or at least regards herself as, well, herself with the only one, the New York Times, not exactly taking a particualrly trans-friendly tone. On the other hand, it’s exactly this sort of misreporting that may have gotten them out of jail – at least the new UK government seemed totally unaware that there was a transgender angle and was approaching it as purely a gay-rights issue.

Will the same international pressure and press coverage happen with Milak and Rani? Somehow, I doubt it. Admittedly, the statement that there was no wedding going on will not help in terms of campaigning internationally, but in terms of trans rights that’s not the point – regardless of what was happening they should never have been arrested, either for being gay or because one of them is transgendered. Sadly, the trans community just doesn’t have the same resources as the gay community: Big budgets, full time staff, many high-profile celebrities and the political contacts.

I live in hope, but it’s so far a folorn hope.