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Complaint over panellist on Today FM's Last Word calling JK Rowling 'transphobic' upheld by BAI

The BAI said the broadcast of this statement without challenge was “not fair”.

File image of author JK Rowling in 2018.
File image of author JK Rowling in 2018.
Image: PA

A COMPLAINT OVER a Today FM panellist calling author JK Rowling ‘transphobic’ without challenge has been upheld by the Broadcast Authority of Ireland (BAI).

The complainant put forward that a contributor called Rowling transphobic without evidence and that this statement was not challenged by anyone else appearing on the programme. 

This complaint was upheld in a decision released today by the BAI.

The remarks – in which Rowling was called a “transphobic bigot” – were made during a panel discussion on Today FM’s The Last Word with Matt Cooper last September.

Rowling, author of the Harry Potter novels, has been criticised in the past for her commentary on gender identity.

In June last year, she was criticised by LGBT groups and others online after a series of tweets about gender terminology. 

The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), a US LGBT non-governmental organisation for media monitoring, said Rowling “continues to align herself with an ideology” distorting facts about gender identity.

On 18 September 2020, the radio panel discussed tweets from Jedward in which they criticised celebrities for comments about Covid-19 and face masks. 

The panel also mentioned tweets from Jedward about JK Rowling, which is how the ‘transphobic’ remark arose. 

The BAI complainant said this statement wasn’t challenged by the presenter or the other panellists and that they believe this is a “very serious accusation”. 

In its defence, the radio station cited a UN agency’s definition of transphobia as an “irrational aversion, anxiety, discomfort or hatred of people because they are or are perceived to be transgender”. 

The station said the panellist is of the opinion that Rowling exhibits some of these characteristics and is entitled to express this opinion.

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The broadcaster added that this discussion was not solely on transgender issues. If this was the case, the programme would have included guests to represent both sides. 

The BAI said The Last Word programme is “generally understood” to be a current affairs programme which is required to be fair to all interests concerned and to be presented in an objective and impartial manner.

“The Committee were of the view that, given the seriousness of the statements made by the panel member, and the lack of challenge by the presenter, the broadcast was not fair,” the BAI said in its decision.  

10 complaints were considered by the BAI at meetings in October and January. Of these, this complaint was the only one upheld. 

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