Monday, October 26, 2009

Channel 4 response to my complaint about "AGE 8 AND WANTING A SEX CHANGE"

Following the Channel 4 Programme last week I wrote a complaint about the misuse of pronouns along the lines of my blog post below. I have today received a response which has actually made me more angry than the original programme. I have responded to them and both their letter and my response are published below (together with their email address if you would like to also respond to them)

Thank you for contacting us regarding the programme AGE 8 AND WANTING A SEX CHANGE. The Commissioning Editor responsible for the programme has provided the following response for those viewers who wrote in connection with the programme and, in particular, the narrator's use of personal pronouns:

" Thank you to everyone that has contacted Channel 4 to share their views on AGE 8 AND WANTING A SEX CHANGE. The film has aroused a great deal of comment, almost all of it favourable, but I am sincerely sorry to hear that some members of the transgender community were upset by our use of biologically-accurate pronouns in the narration of the programme.

It's important to remember that the majority of our audience will have had little or no understanding of transgender issues. The decision to use the pronouns we did was based on our responsibility to make the programme comprehensible to a mainstream audience.

As many viewers have pointed out, the parents featured in our programme always referred to their child by their "preferred" gender. We were happy that this made it absolutely clear that each family had accepted and were extremely supportive of their child's decision.

I hope you'll agree that AGE 8 AND WANTING SEX CHANGE was a story worth telling, and a story worth telling to as many people as possible, even at the risk of causing some dissatisfaction amongst those who understand the subject well already."

We hope the above explains the reasoning behind this decision and would like to assure you that your complaint has been logged and seen by those responsible for the programme.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact us. We appreciate all feedback from our viewers; complimentary or otherwise.

Jessicka Burton
Channel 4 Viewer Enquiries

Kind regards,
Jane Morgan
Channel 4 Viewer Enquiries

As the email was signed off by both Jane and Jessicka I am not sure who wrote it - so I have to make a point used an inappropriate, but technically correct, salutation. My Response is as follows - and for once I have not taken time to reflect on it - I want my anger to be conveyed.

Dear "Sir"

I am sorry but this response is utter "bullshit." The pronouns were socially inaccurate, insulting and demeaning, especially given the comments about pronouns in the programme by the parents.

I read the responses on your web site - which incidentally did not include mine - and from my quick calculation about 80% of the responses were negative about the pronouns. Bearing in mind mine was not positive and was not published I suspect that there was an overwhelming negative response on this issue.

The fact that the overwhelming majority of the audience had little or no understanding of the subject means that it was all the more important for you to take the socially responsible position of informing them of the "correct" use of pronouns. Your response simply confirms that your producers either did not bother to research the issue effectively, or that they made a conscious decision stir up transphobic feelings.

If you check with the guidelines issues by the Equality and Human Rights Commission you will discover that persistent use of incorrect pronouns, ie pronouns that fail to reflect a persons acquired, or, as you put it, preferred gender, is considered to be Harassment. In a workplace this is sufficient grounds for a discrimination case to be successfully brought against a perpetrator.

Yes, AGE 8 AND WANTING A SEX CHANGE was a story worth telling - but you failed to tell it. I have been interviewed on radio a number of times since this programme and I have noticed that on every occasion I am being asked questions about whether a child is old enough to make decisions about their gender. This did not happen before your programme and other transphobic media stories over the past month and I can only surmise that the change of attitude is because of the way your programme misrepresented the facts.

Can I suggest that next time you plan to cover this topic instead of seeking advice from "Sun Readers" and other homophobes and transphobes, you seek advice from gender professionals, of whom there are many, and get your facts straight. The difficulties these children, and later in life adults like myself, face are because producers like you continue to promote outdated homophobic and transphobic attitudes.

I wonder if the next time you read of a young gender variant person taking their own life you will be prepared to bear some of the responsibility for that, because your programme has contributed to the hurtful and discriminatory way in which other children treated then at school by the model of behaviour set by your programme.

Ms Rikki Arundel MSc (Gender Research)

Edited 27th October 2009 12.30 pm

And here is their response to that:

Dear Rikki,

Thank you for contacting Channel 4 Viewer Enquiries regarding BODYSHOCK: Age
8 and Wanting a Sex Change.

We are sorry to read you are disappointed with our previous response. You can be assured all your complaint has been logged and forwarded for the information of those responsible for our programming.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact us. We appreciate all feedback from our viewers; complimentary or otherwise.


Lorna Dane
Channel 4 Viewer Enquiries

Well - thats three people who have been involved. I have called the Equality and Human Rights Commission - and they are sending me some template letters - I will blog later with details of what I have done next and how you may be able to get involved as well.


Anonymous said...

Is there any way of contacting the participants in the programme, finding out if they have seen the finished product and how they feel about it?


Rikki said...

I doubt it Polly

The identities were not disclosed on the programme - nor even their locations.

However I have not let this drop.

1. I have spoken to the Equality and Human Rights Commission and they have given me some advice on following this up which will be doing because I now also know that Channel 4 is a public body and is subject to the Gender Equality Duty.

2. Channel 4 have signed up to a pledge to promote equality in programming - and Trevor Phillips was at the launch of that and its all on their web site - I have drawn the attention of channel 4 to this and await a response - I have also spoken to them and my email and subsequent communications are being referred to someone else - not sure who - but I will be following up.

3. Andy Duncan (Channel 4 Chief exec for now) is the Chair of the Cultural Diversity Network which was set up to promote faireness and diversity in broadcasting. It is largely focused on BME but with the EHRC heavily backing trans rights,I plan to make sure that trans issues are on the agenda. I have already contacted them and had a response today - so now await their response.

4. I have already had a lot of supportive comment - more comment to follow in a blog in a day or two.

BigLiz said...

Thank you for writing to Channel 4, Rikki. I think they've been awful. Polly, the families involved are known to Kim Pearson of TransYouth Family Allies. You may be able to glean more from Trans Media Watch on Facebook.

Liz Church

Josephine said...

There's always Ofcom. They are currently being forced to take the many complaints over 'Moving Wallpaper' earlier this year seriously, as we are now onto our second could add this to their postbag.

Rikki said...

I would be very interested ti hear more about your 'Moving Wallpapers' Campaign Josephine. I have written to Andy Duncan MD of Channel 4 who is also the chair the the Cultural Diversity Network and also to my MP Diana Johnson who I know well and who is a junior Minister for Schools with responsibility for Equality and Diversity. Happy to add Ofcom to my campaign - do you have a contact name.


BigLiz said...

A friend of mine complained to Ofcom about Rudy's Rare Records, a radio broadcast featuring Lenny Henry which contained two minutes of transphobia similar to Moving Wallpaper. They dismissed it in similar fashion.

Anonymous said...

Hi Rikki,

C5 's programme at 6.30 pm that same night discussed the c4 programme, not only did they use in correct pronouns but they even suggested that the parents were effectively mad to allow them to live as their chosen gender at that age. Ian Wright and the team just don't get it do they, but then they aren't living with GID like those children or us. I complained to Ofcom and C5 but so far no response.

Letters to Ofcom can be sent to this address.

Riverside House
2a Southwark Bridge Road