Al Jazeera Journalism Review

Outside image
Police officers stand in front of transgender rights protesters at a protest in Melbourne, Australia on March 18, 2023 in this picture obtained from a social media video [Twitter @Aaroncre1/via Reuters]

Is the media responsible for the Auckland violence?

The media is failing to adhere to well-founded principles of journalism in its coverage of transgender issues. Violence is the result


Auckland, New Zealand, was rocked by violent protests at the weekend when women's rights activists on a tour called Let Women Speak arrived to hold a rally. 

The campaign group, led by the women’s rights activist, Posie Parker (real name Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull), has been touring Australia and New Zealand to give a platform to women who are worried about self-ID laws which allow people to change their legal sex without the requirement for medical treatment or diagnosis and, therefore, have access to spaces usually reserved for members of the opposite sex.


Keen-Minshull argues that self-ID places women and girls in danger because it removes all usual safeguarding in place for them, particularly in places like prisons, domestic violence shelters, changing rooms and public toilets. Effectively, if any man can self-ID as a woman, he will have unfettered access to those spaces.

Trans rights activists say that this line of argument is a “dog whistle” for what is actually hatred, transphobia and an assault on the rights of transgender people who just want to live their lives in peace in the gender they identify with.

But why would such a disagreement erupt into the sort of violence that was seen this weekend? One catalyst has undeniably been media coverage of transgender issues generally and the Let Women Speak tour in particular.

Keen-Minshull has been labelled “anti-trans”, and much of the media has reported her as such. Keen-Minshull says she is not anti-trans at all, and is merely speaking up for women’s rights which she sees as being eroded.


Amidst the backlash against the Let Women Speak tour have been accusations that Keen-Minshull is funded by white supremacist organisations. Indeed, when a white supremacist counter-protest group arrived at her rally in Melbourne, Australia, last week, for example, it was widely reported in the media that they had come to support her.

Despite this assertion being very far from proven as true - and Keen-Minshull herself stating she has no links to the group - on Sunday, the Guardian continued to report it as fact, writing: “An earlier appearance in Australia had been attended and supported by white supremacist groups, who marched the streets, repeatedly performing the Nazi salute.”

The same Guardian article was headlined: “Anti-trans activist Posie Parker ends New Zealand tour after chaotic protests at event”. Others, such as The Western Australian, joined in with this description.


It is far from clear that Keen-Minshull is, in fact, anything other than a women’s rights campaigner, so these headlines, describing her as “anti-trans” seems designed to inflame tensions between the two sides.


Another news organisation in New Zealand, NewsHub, reported that Keen-Minshull had “flashed a white supremacist symbol” with a hand gesture in a video - censored by them to avoid discomfort among viewers. However as the journalist, Andy Ngo, senior editor at The Post Millennial, demonstrated in a tweet, Keen-Minshull was merely fiddling with the zipper on her jacket.

The left-wing Western media has been fanning the flames of the transgender rights row for some time now. For example, rulings by major sporting bodies that transgender women should not compete in women’s events have widely been reported as transgender sports people being banned from competitive sports altogether - a false claim.


This sort of inaccurate reporting, as well as the general labelling of women’s rights groups as “anti trans” has almost certainly contributed to the anger and violence which has erupted over this issue.

While the left-wing media has been misreporting on this issue, some elements of the right-wing media have been stirring up outright hatred towards transgender people. Take this Fox News headline: “Axios: Co Shooting Suspect is Non-Binary”.


Whether or not one agrees that trans women should be allowed access to women’s spaces, sports and reserved positions is actually besides the point. Journalism should start and end with the facts and should never stray into promoting hate speech in any form.

The Ethical Journalism Network lays out five core values for journalism.

  1. Truth and accuracy
  2. Independence
  3. Fairness and impartiality
  4. Humanity
  5. Accountability

I can see at least three of these principles being flouted by media reporting on transgender issues.

Let’s take principle number 1, Truth and accuracy. As the Ethical Journalism Network states: “Journalists cannot always guarantee ‘truth’, but getting the facts right is the cardinal principle of journalism… When we cannot corroborate information, we should say so.” 

Coverage of the Let Women Speak tour in Australia and New Zealand by news outlets such as the Guardian, The West Australian and NewsHub, for example, clearly falls short of this principle with its labelling of a women’s rights activist as “anti-trans” and the assertion by some that she was supported by a white supremacist group. Neither of these things has been corroborated or shown to be true.

Similarly, news organisations reporting that transgender people have been “banned” from entering competitive sports is false. In the most recent move of this sort, World Athletics has banned transgender women (who are biologically male) from competing in the female category at international events.


They have not been banned from competing in their own sex class. The difference here is important - in one case, a grievous human rights abuse appears to have been committed against a vulnerable minority group - something that is bound to stir up anger and resentment if it were true. Headlines stating this clearly serve only to cause more division.

Indeed, this is a clear example of why the media must be absolutely accurate in its reporting of any issue. Inaccuracy can have terrible consequences.


The Guardian’s coverage also fails principle number 3 - Fairness and Impartiality. Of this, the Ethical Journalism Network states: “Most stories have at least two sides. While there is no obligation to present every side in every piece, stories should be balanced and add context... Impartial reporting builds trust and confidence.” It is very clear from their inflammatory reporting on this issue that the Guardian and others are not impartial at all.

In Principle number 4 - Humanity - the EJN states: “Journalists should do no harm. What we publish or broadcast may be hurtful, but we should be aware of the impact of our words and images on the lives of others.” 

To my mind, this principle includes only stating relevant information about people. Fox News flouts this by not just describing a shooter as “non-binary” (so what?), but making this the entire point of a headline. There is no reason to do this other than to make viewers feel negatively towards non-binary and transgender people.

The violence we have seen in New Zealand this weekend is very frightening. It is imperative that the media does its part not to inflame it further.

Nina Montagu-Smith is Editor of the Al Jazeera Journalism Review


More Articles

What happened when I asked ChatGPT to write my article

It got quite a lot right, and quite a lot very, very wrong

Anam Hussain
Anam Hussain Published on: 22 May, 2023
Shireen Abu Akleh’s forgotten murder

Over the past year, many in the media profession in the US have deliberately chosen to forget the assassination of their colleague

Andrew Mitrovica Published on: 11 May, 2023
The correspondent's job: Ask people, don't tell them

Should foreign correspondents and their media organisations ever take a stand on another country’s political divisions?

Ilya U Topper Published on: 8 May, 2023
Why won’t Zimbabwe’s media report truthfully on the Gold Mafia?

When it comes to government corruption, mainstream media only reports what the government tells it to - as can be seen by their response to a damning Al Jazeera documentary

Derick M
Derick Matsengarwodzi Published on: 16 Apr, 2023
A ‘culture of fear’ - the scourge of racism in UK newsrooms

Always ready to expose prejudice and hypocrisy within political and social elites, the bosses of Britain’s newsrooms have completely failed to address their own

Aidan White Published on: 9 Apr, 2023
How do we decolonise journalism?

It is our place as journalists to lead the way in challenging oppressive social and political structures - here’s how to do it

Haroon Khalid
Haroon Khalid Published on: 14 Mar, 2023
Turkish media is trapped under the rubble

Turkey has suffered one of the gravest humanitarian disasters in its history, but still the media cannot seem to disengage from political polarisation

Yusuf Göktaş Published on: 2 Mar, 2023
Climate journalism is growing up

Environmental coverage is moving on from panic-inducing warnings about global warming to the more constructive, solutions-based approach of climate journalism

Abeer Khan Published on: 27 Feb, 2023
Why are British police arresting journalists?

UK police forces increasingly regard criticism from the media as a ‘war on policing’. Journalists are being harassed, accused of crimes and arrested as a result

Rebecca Tidy Published on: 23 Feb, 2023
Covering a natural disaster - a time for credible and useful journalism

How should journalists set about covering the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria without adding to the trauma of victims? 

Aidan White Published on: 7 Feb, 2023
When will this epidemic of dead and dying journalists come to an end?

Journalists are being targeted and killed in greater numbers than ever before. What will it take to get our leaders to act?

Nina Montagu-Smith
Nina Montagu-Smith Published on: 25 Jan, 2023
Has the media enabled a new age of scientific misinformation?

Social media and complex AI newsroom tools have produced a toxic environment in which dangerous misinformation is flourishing

Safina Nabi Published on: 23 Jan, 2023
‘Border jumpers’ and ‘spreaders of disease’ - how South African media incites racial hatred

The evidence that mass violence and vigilante killings have been sparked by the media in South Africa is undeniable

Danmore Chuma Published on: 16 Jan, 2023
Julian Assange is no hero among journalists

A record number of journalists are languishing in prisons around the world, yet Assange is constantly held up as a poster boy for this type of injustice. There are far more deserving candidates

Nina Montagu-Smith
Nina Montagu-Smith Published on: 10 Jan, 2023
Is it time to ditch the word ‘fixer’?

A large part of the work associated with foreign correspondents is actually carried out by local journalists who are rarely credited - they work in the shadows

Ana P Santos Published on: 22 Dec, 2022
Morocco was the World Cup feel-good story we needed

Scenes of players frolicking on the pitch with their mothers were more than enough for me

Soraya Salam
Soraya Salam Published on: 19 Dec, 2022
In appreciation of sports journalists

The common perception of sports journalists as mere entertainment reporters is far from the full story

Nina Montagu-Smith
Nina Montagu-Smith Published on: 15 Dec, 2022
Sexual harassment in African newsrooms is a scourge on journalism

Well over half of women journalists in Africa have been subjected to sexual harassment, abuse or victimisation in news rooms. It’s time to crack down

Philip Obaji Jr
Philip Obaji Jr Published on: 12 Dec, 2022
Drone wars have removed our ability to report the horrors of conflict

What is the future for journalism in the ‘third drone age’? Full of manipulated news, most likely

Pauline Canham
Pauline Canham Published on: 8 Dec, 2022
America and Israel are partners in denial of justice for journalists 

Both countries have a disgraceful history of disregard for the rights of media staff who are the victims of violence, particularly in conflict zones

Aidan White Published on: 27 Nov, 2022
On Zimbabwean journalists and American democracy

A Zimbabwean journalist invited by the US embassy in Harare to ‘monitor’ the US Midterms has been labelled a ‘Western spy’ by some people at home

Derick M
Derick Matsengarwodzi Published on: 14 Nov, 2022
Why Western media makes this football fan so uneasy

Criticism of Qatar in the lead up to the World Cup was always a given. But some of the hypocrisy on display is something else

Nina Montagu-Smith
Nina Montagu-Smith Published on: 27 Oct, 2022
The problem with foreign correspondents - wherever they may hail from

It’s good that the BBC recognises the value of not just sending white, British journalists to cover the internal affairs of other countries. But why send an Africa reporter to cover Pakistan?

Anam Hussain
Anam Hussain Published on: 25 Oct, 2022
Beware of trying to ‘cause’ the news to happen

How rumours and speculation about a refugee ‘Convoy of Light’ descending on the Greek border with Turkey were taken up by some members of the press - when it never actually happened

Ilya U Topper Published on: 13 Oct, 2022