HILARY OXLEY AGAINST THE SPINOFF
Case Number: 3396
Council Meeting: 8 May 2023
Decision: Not Upheld
Publication: The Spinoff
Accuracy, Fairness and Balance
Comment and Fact
Conflicts of Interest
- The Spinoff published an article on 15 February 2023, headlined Review: Hogwarts Legacy tests the limits of childhood nostalgia. The complainant argues that comment in the article about Harry Potter author JK Rowling was factually incorrect and in breach of Media Council Principles (1) Accuracy, Fairness and Balance; (4) Comment and Fact; (10) Conflicts of Interest. The complaint is not upheld.
- The review began by referring to the discourse around JK Rowling and says The Harry Potter universe comes from the mind of an author who has spent the last half decade being outspokenly and repeatedly transphobic, using her public profile to actively battle trans rights, right up to the release of this game.
- Hilary Oxley complained that the reviewer’s comments were untrue and possibly defamatory. Citing numerous references, she said the many clarifying things JK Rowling has said “made it clear, to any open mind, that she is not fighting against trans rights, nor is she transphobic.”
- Ms Oxley said The Spinoff was yet again attempting to mislead the public with distressing and dishonest one-sided reporting related to gender and sex. She said the review would have been more balanced if some of the debate around whether or not JK Rowling was transphobic had been presented.
- The complainant took issue with a brief reference at the end of the review to JK Rowling’s “yanking of antisemitic tropes.”
- The complainant also wondered if there was a conflict of interest when The Spinoff employed “someone with a particular interest in appearing fair minded and wanting to keep up readership numbers around a topic which gets boycotted/cancelled easily.”
- The Spinoff responded saying the substance of the debate around whether JK Rowling had ever said anything transphobic was moot.
- Ms Rowling had repeatedly made comments that fit under both the commonly understood and standard definition of transphobia (dislike of, or strong prejudice against transgender people) and included comments that criticised language that is inclusive of trans people, comments that specifically call for trans people to be excluded from single-sex spaces and publicly opposing legislation that would give trans people rights.
- The Spinoff said “Rowling has become one of the more prominent voices and images of the ‘gender critical’ movement, widely regarded as transphobic. The review acknowledges this and also acknowledges that it has contributed significantly to the discourse around this game since it was announced in 2020.”
- As for the complaint that it breached Principle (4) Comment and Fact, the piece was clearly labelled as a review, and everything contained within it should be understood to be an opinion.
- The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines transphobia as an irrational fear of, aversion to or discrimination against transgender people. Wikipedia defines it as a collection of ideas and phenomena that encompass a range of negative attitudes, feelings, or actions toward transgender people or trans-ness in general. These are definitions which are open to wide interpretation and argument as to whether someone’s opinion on gender issues is transphobic.
- The nub of this complaint is whether it is wrong to say JK Rowling is transphobic. JK Rowling’s comments on Twitter and elsewhere - on the use of gender neutral language; whether women’s spaces, such as prisons and domestic-violence should be protected on the basis of biological sex rather than self-declared gender; and on concerns over the medical transition of some young people – have made her an important figure in a polarised international debate. Whether her views are transphobic are matters of opinion and argument.
- This is a cultural debate which the Media Council has no mandate to determine. The Council’s role is to rule on matters of journalistic ethics and to find whether publications have breached any of its principles.
- The complainant argues there has been a breach to Principle (1) Accuracy, Fairness and Balance. This principle usually applies to news articles or features, rather than reviews, which are expected to contain opinion. The reviewer’s comment, that JK Rowling views are transphobic, is the reviewer’s opinion and freedom of expression gives the right to say that.
- Principle (4) Comment and Fact, requires a clear distinction between factual information and comment or opinion, that the article should be clearly presented as such, and that material facts on which the opinion is based should be accurate. The Media Council can see there is a continuing debate as to whether JK Rowling’s views are transphobic – either way this is a matter of opinion, not fact, and the article was clearly presented as opinion.
- Reference to antisemitic tropes refers to Rowling’s use of goblins. Whether goblins are an antisemitic trope is another matter of debate and divergent opinion, not fact.
- While balance is not required in opinion pieces, this review acknowledges divergent views by saying the game has become a lightning rod for people to decry “woke politics” with a vocal wing of fans purchasing the game in support of its author’s beliefs, just as a vocal group are calling for people to boycott it.
- Principle (10) Conflicts of Interest has also been cited. This principle states that publications must be free of obligations to their news sources, avoid situations that compromise their independence and declare sponsorships, financial inducements or relationships that that an author might have to a subject. Publications produce material to satisfy the interests of their audience. That may help readership but the Media Council does not consider this to be a conflict of interest.
- For the reasons set out the complaint is not upheld.
Council members considering the complaint were Raynor Asher, Hank Schouten, Tim Watkin, Scott Inglis, Katrina Bennett, Ben France-Hudson, Jo Cribb, Judi Jones, Marie Shroff, Alison Thom and Katrina Bennett.