The BBC has acknowledged that an article stating that a High Court ruling on puberty-blocking drugs could cause gender-confused young people to commit suicide was one-sided and endangered vulnerable people.
In December, senior judges ruled to protect children from experimental sex-swap drugs. But when the NHS’s Gender Identity Development Service decided to appeal, the BBC responded by publishing a controversial article by their LGBT correspondent which ignored advice on media reporting of suicide.
Following a complaint, the BBC now accepts Ben Hunte’s article – ‘Puberty blockers: Parents’ warning as ruling challenged’ – was not impartial because it failed to report the views of those against the use of such experimental drugs. They also admit that it gave undue attention to suicide and that this risked encouraging vulnerable people to contemplate taking their own lives.
Citing guidelines on impartiality, which state that news reports should give “due weight” to opposing views, the BBC admitted “the article should have done more to reflect the arguments of those who have legitimate reservations about the use of puberty blockers”.
In relation to suicide, the BBC conceded it had not heeded media advice “warning that factual reporting of suicide has ‘the potential to make such actions appear feasible and even reasonable to the vulnerable’”.
The broadcaster’s complaints unit concluded that the “repeated references to suicide went beyond what was editorially justified in the context”.
In the original article – which was later edited to remove the suggestion of causation – Hunte reported speculation that the court ruling could lead to self harm and suicide among teenagers.
He quoted GP Dr Adrian Harrop, an LGBT activist with no specialist knowledge in gender dysphoria but who claimed there was “a very real risk” of more suicides.
Hunte also gave credence to similar views from Helen Webberley, who was suspended by the General Medical Council for running an unlicensed transgender clinic for children.
In an open letter to the Corporation, parents’ group Transgender Trend criticised the LGBT correspondent’s article, saying it was “wrong to speculate about the reasons for suicide”.
Samaritans’ advice to the media warns: “Steer clear of presenting suicidal behaviour as an understandable response to a crisis or adversity. This can contribute to unhelpful and risky normalising of suicide as an appropriate response to distress.”
It also clearly states: “Speculation about the ‘trigger’ or cause of a suicide can oversimplify the issue and should be avoided. Suicide is extremely complex and most of the time there is no single event or factor that leads someone to take their own life.”