Case Number: 3383

Council Meeting: MARCH 2023

Decision: No Grounds to Proceed

Publication: Newshub TV3

Principle: Accuracy, Fairness and Balance
Comment and Fact
Headlines and Captions
Discrimination and Diversity

Ruling Categories: Balance, Lack Of
Apology and Correction Sought


On 7 Febuary 2023, Newshub published a story headed Surfing star Bethany Hamilton threatens to boycott World Surf League over new transgender rules. It outlined new rules about when trans-women could enter surfing competitions and reported Ms Hamilton’s dissatisfaction with the change. The story described Ms Hamilton as inspirational and said she had gone on to a professional surfing career after losing her arm to a shark.

Hannah Rodgers complained that the story was harmful towards the trans community. The word “inspirational” was not in quotation marks in the story suggesting it was the opinion of the media outlet and created a bias in favour of Ms Hamilton. The article used transgender as a noun in the context of “the first transgender to win” which was dehumanising. The story also presented the controversy about trans-women in sport as if there were valid points on both sides, which there were not, Ms Rodgers said. The science was clear and presenting the two sides as if they were equal played into the hands of those who did not want trans-women to be able to participate in society. Ms Rodgers supplied links to research she said backed up her views.

Newshub apologised for its error in using the word transgender as a noun. It was a mistake and had been corrected.  It rejected the rest of the complaint, saying controversy surrounding rules for transgender athletes had been widely reported. The story complained about was a straightforward report of the controversy that was affecting the World Surf League.

The Media Council notes that the error over the use of the word “transgender” was acknowledged and corrected appropriately. It seems reasonable to describe a person who has continued a surfing career after losing an arm to a shark as “inspirational”. The views expressed by Ms Hamilton were clearly shown to be her opinion. Her views are one side of a genuine and on-going debate about transgender athletes competing in women’s competitions. The complainant is seeking to shut down this debate, which is contrary to the Media Council’s commitment to free speech. This issue is an ongoing one where balance can be provided over time, as set out in Principle (1) Accuracy, Fairness and Balance, which states in part that exceptions to the usual rules about balance “may apply for long-running issues where every side of an issue or argument cannot reasonably be repeated on every occasion”. No principles have been breached.


Decision: There were insufficient grounds to proceed


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