Malawi mis-gendering: Response from the BBC

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.

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