Sun was ‘crude and discriminatory’ in mocking Brothers, says watchdog


The Sun newspaper has been told by the press regulator that it was guilty of “discriminatory” and “unacceptable” behaviour when it printed a column mocking a disabled and transgender politician.

The tabloid was forced to publish the adjudication by the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) today (Thursday) in full, but has not been told to apologise to Labour’s Emily Brothers.

Brothers (pictured) is currently recovering at home from a triple heart bypass operation, but issued a statement condemning the newspaper for failing to apologise, and calling for tougher rules that would have allowed IPSO to force The Sun to do so.

The ruling relates to a column by journalist Rod Liddle on 11 December last year, which included a remark that mocked both Brothers’ impairment and her transgender status.

An online petition calling for The Sun and Liddle to apologise attracted more than 28,000 names.

But when Liddle “apologised” in print for the comment, he took the opportunity to make another joke at Brothers’ expense, and used her former first name in what she believes was an effort to humiliate her.

A complaint was lodged – with Brothers’ consent – by the charity Trans Media Watch.

IPSO’s adjudication has now found that the original “crude” and “pejorative” comments by Liddle were “plainly wrong” and “discriminatory”, and had “belittled Ms Brothers, her gender identity and her disability, mocking her for no reason other than these perceived ‘differences’”.

Upholding the complaint, IPSO concluded that Liddle’s subsequent apology was not “genuine” or a “sincere expression of regret” and had been used “as an opportunity for a further attempt at humour at Ms Brothers’ expense”.

But it also said there was not sufficient evidence to conclude that including her former first name was “deliberate”. 

Brothers, who fought the Sutton and Cheam seat for Labour at the general election, welcomed IPSO’s ruling, which she said should now show newspapers “they don’t have free-reign to show contempt for people who are different in some way, by using pejorative or prejudicial language”.

But she said she was disappointed that IPSO had not demanded a “full and proper apology” from The Sun.

She said: “In the absence of an apology without bitterness on the part of Mr Liddle and his rag of a paper, I can only conclude they do not regret their actions.

“That isn’t encouraging for the future, as others may well experience similar treatment just because they are different.”

She thanked Trans Media Watch and other individuals and organisations that had supported her, and added: “Politicians need to take the knocks, so I’ve been able to dismiss Rod Liddle’s comment piece as ridiculous.

“My central concern is how other transgender people and their families feel about these comments, particularly those who are going through the transitioning process and are fearful of other people’s reactions and fearful of being ridiculed.”

Disability News Service (DNS) asked The Sun why it had not apologised to Brothers, and whether it would now do so, but it failed to comment before the deadline.

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