Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) program Media Watch’s host Paul Barry has been criticized by fellow ABC journalists and members of the transgender and non-binary community following the program’s October 17 episode, “ACON and the ABC”, which claimed that the ABC’s coverage of transgender issues has been influenced by the broadcaster’s corporate partnership with ACON, a New South Wales-based LGBTQ+ community organisation.
Using this pretext, Barry used the Media Watch episode to platform prominent transphobic voices. It provided a misleading report about a University of Melbourne panel, “Pride and Prejudice in Policy: What Can Our Public Institutions Learn from the UK’s Stonewall Controversy?” which was chaired by ABC radio host Jon Faine. The October 4 event featured Cordelia Fine, Linda Gale and Kathleen Stocks, who have been criticised for expressing transphobic views.
Fine, a University of Melbourne academic, published an immensely transphobic article critical of non-binary gender identities in The Monthly, entitled “Agender Bender”. Gale is a Victorian Greens member who has been criticised for making transphobic statements in internal party debates. Stock voluntarily stood down from her position as a professor of philosophy when criticised by students and fellow academics for making transphobic statements in her academic work. Stock received widespread sympathetic corporate media reporting, however.
In response to a protest held by members and allies of the transgender and non-binary community outside the Melbourne University event, Faine chose to portray this in his October 9 Sunday Age article as “8 or 9 noisy trans activists trying but failing to shut down the forum”. His article frames transphobic voices as “just having a discussion”. Meanwhile, members of the transgender and non-binary community are forced to continually debate their humanity while being portrayed as the aggressors for standing up for their rights.
Academic Sally Hines was one of two academics initially scheduled to appear on the Melbourne University panel who withdrew because she refused to legitimise transphobia. Media Watch chose to frame this decision as “Trans-activists withdrawing to try and shut down debates”.
Media Watch claimed it was merely raising concerns about ABC bias due to its participation in ACON’s Australian Workplace Index Awards (AWIA) — citing British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and Channel 4 exiting Britain’s LGBTIQ organisation Stonewall’s Workplace Diversity program last year. It concluded that the ABC should follow suit.
In response to the program’s claims the ABC was being rewarded by a lobby group, ABC management reiterated its editorial independence stating:
“Transgender and gender identity issues are complex and require careful editorial judgement to ensure informed reporting without causing offence or undue distress and harm to vulnerable individuals and communities. Like other responsible media, the ABC endeavors to ensure its reporting is based on credible research, talking to people with lived experience, peak bodies and qualified experts and taking an evidence-based approach.”
The ABC also pointed out that it participates in “other benchmarking indexes to monitor its progress and improve workplace practices, such as those run by the Diversity Council of Australia, Reconciliation Australia and the Australian Network on Disability”.
Moreover, Dawn Emsen-Hough, Director of ACON’s Pride Inclusion Programs, pointed out that the organisation — which specialises in community health, HIV responses and inclusion for LGBTIQ people — has been targeted for more than a year for their “messaging around trans inclusion and in particular trans women”. Emsen-Hough slammed Media Watch for mischaracterising ACON and Pride in Diversity as a lobby group.
Transgender advocate and Switchboard Victoria CEO Joe Ball also condemned Media Watch for “deliberately” misrepresenting ACON and pointed to how trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs) and transphobic organisations have used similar tactics in Britain, saying: “Sadly, we have been here before. This tactic is not new. It was used in the UK to undermine LGBTIQ+ charities. Charities are allowed to engage in policy discussions. Charities such as Beyond Blue, Lifeline & Headspace also promote workplace wellbeing activities.”
Twitter user Isabelle Moreton, who often catalogues and criticises transphobic issues in Australia, pointed out that this wasn’t the first instance of Barry and Media Watch engaging in transphobic behaviour. Moreton pointed to a post where Barry’s former co-worker Kate Doak alleged that he effectively threatened to out her, and a 2015 post where he misgendered retired athlete and media figure, Caitlyn Jenner.
This platforming of TERFs and other transphobic figures in state and corporate media, including in programs such as Media Watch, which claim to be balanced, has real-world harmful consequences for transgender and non-binary people. Media debate about the validity of transgender people in Britain has led to a 56% increase in hate crimes against transgender people in the past six months.
Workplace queer inclusion programs like ACON’s are still necessary. ACON released its 2021 survey results that only 28% of respondents would consider themselves an active ally to LGBTIQ people, 11% did not feel managers/team leaders would address bullying and 14% of respondents witnessed negative jokes/commentary targeting LGBTIQ people.
Research also demonstrates a link between LGBTIQ Australians not feeling safe at work and negative mental health outcomes. La Trobe University research from 2020 found 57.2% of more than 6000 surveyed LGBTIQ people were experiencing high or extremely high levels of psychological distress, while 41.9% reported thoughts of suicide over the past 12 months.
Media Watch is meant to function as a watchdog for countering misinformation in the corporate media, however in this case it has chosen to platform transphobic voices acting to undermine organisations trying to protect transgender rights instead of listening to transgender and non-binary people, and is therefore complicit in perpetuating transphobia.