(Image: Tom Red/Private Media)

News Corp publications include more about transgender people than any other Australian media outlet, with up to 90% of their articles framing the issue in a negative way, according to a new study.

This tenor of coverage has persisted despite the Australian Press Council’s attempts to improve standards of reporting on trans issues.

In 2019, Crikey reported that The Australian’s transgender coverage was dominated by anti-trans narratives packaged as news.

Researchers Alexandra García and Joshua Badge’s investigation of how major Australian news publications represented transgender issues and people between January 1, 2019, and December 31, 2020, provides further empirical evidence of the publication’s crusade against transgender Australians.

What they found was that more than half of all coverage in Australia — a total of 1319 articles in two years — came from The Australian, the Herald Sun and The Daily Telegraph, and that this coverage was overwhelmingly negative.

“In our initial sample of 53 articles from The Australian published between April and October 2019, over 90% of the articles framed transgender people and issues negatively,” they wrote.

Articles from these publications relied on narratives including fearmongering about the dangers of children transitioning, erosion of the rights of cisgender females, and attacks on freedom of speech. The authors note that these narratives are either poorly supported, imagined or overblown.

Analysis of keywords reveals how transgender issues are being framed as being at odds with women’s welfare, in everything from women’s sport to women’s safety.

This is evidenced by the focus on “trans women”, which was used four times as much as “trans men” in the articles analysed.

“What we’re seeing is the normalisation of anti-trans attitudes in the press. What started as a fixation at one broadsheet in particular has developed into a broader hostility toward trans people, especially trans women,” Badge told Crikey.

The research also found that the Press Council’s 2019 advisory guidelines for reporting on people with diverse sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics had not made a significant difference.

Noting that the number of articles on transgender people and issues declined 37% in 2020, something that the authors attributed to the attention given to COVID-19, problematic and derogatory language in articles reduced by only 10 percentile points.

“The Press Council’s advisory guidelines have been ineffective in reducing biased and harmful representations of trans people, including basic standards such as not using dead names or derogatory language,” Badge said.

Undeterred by voluntary guidelines, this research shows that News Corp leads Australia in its focus on Australian transgender issues and people in a negative light.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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