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Dear BBC News: please adjust your coverage of Chelsea Manning

Dear BBC:

I enjoy having you around. You make things like Sherlock and Doctor Who and In the Flesh, and I don’t even have to put up with ads. That licence fee’s a good idea. Most of the time, you make me happy.

That’s why the coverage of Chelsea Manning’s recent announcement by BBC News disappointed me.

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When someone comes out as transgender, they aren’t saying what gender they want to be, they’re saying what gender they are. This should have been clear to you, I would have thought, from her statement (quoted in your report), ‘I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female’. Not ‘I want to be a female’, but ‘I am’. It is completely inappropriate to state ‘Bradley Manning… has announced he wants to become a woman’. Chelsea Manning – known previously as Bradley to the public – has announced she is one, and your use of her prior name and pronouns implies otherwise, as if being a woman demanded more than self-identifying as such. It doesn’t.

Regarding, specifically, the pronouns you use (‘He wants’, ‘He said he had felt’, ‘He has’, ‘He could’), Manning’s public statement – the very one you are reporting – included the words, ‘I also request that, starting today, you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun (except in official mail to the confinement facility)’. That would be ‘she’, then, wouldn’t it? Misgendering the person whose coming out as trans* you are reporting, within that report, when they’ve specifically and plainly asked you not to? Not good, BBC, not good – especially since it appears you’ve gone out of your way to start as many sentences with ‘He’ as possible.

If you want to see coverage similar to yours, which gets these very basic things right on the whole, look up MSNBC’s report. Either way, please amend the name, pronouns and phrasing used in your own news piece to reflect the reality of Chelsea Manning’s gender: if you’re stuck, remember that you’re writing about a woman. (For further help, see Trans Media Watch’s style guide for the press.)

I look forward to seeing changes made.

@AlexGabriel

P.S. The rest of you can make complaints to BBC News online here.

Comments

  1. Calum says

    I just heard Eddie Mair on BBC Radio 4’s PM programme interviewing someone (a doctor, I think) about the hormone treatment, in the light of today’s announcement/request by Chelsea Manning. Right from the start of the item, he referred correctly to “Chelsea” Manning, “she”, “her”, etc, etc, etc, as did the chap he was interviewing. However, moments later, on the 6 o’clock news, the newsreader referred to “Bradley Manning” when reading out the headlines. I suppose at least they’re getting there – frankly, I was amazed that the PM programme was so swiftly getting it right. Legions of listeners who read the Daily Mail will be having seizures…

  2. Maureen Brian says

    I’m so glad we’ve got you, Alex, if only because Jason Walsh Journalist is making a complete arse of himself on fb and Nick Cohen is backing him up.

    Clearly both feel threatened and yet both would happily tell us that the sexual revolution is over and there’s no need to go on about it any more.

  3. Calum says

    So I see. The tone of the comments seems more moderate than I’d have predicted as well, which is good. It’s early days though!

  4. Eleanor Dent says

    I expect that, if the BBC had started talking about Chelsea Manning before stating that this is the name by which the former Bradley Manning henceforth wishes to be known, no-one would have known whom they were talking about. The BBC is known to be antediluvian so I am not surprised. I support Amnesty International and they are calling on President Obama to commute Chelsea’s sentence to the length of time she has already served. I support this and you can, too, via Amnesty. They have a facebook page.

  5. says

    Agreed. And yes, that’s true, but there are ways around that issue. They could have opened, for example, with something like “Manning takes first name Chelsea, comes out as transgender”.

  6. gshelley says

    Or followed the Guardians example “‘I am Chelsea Manning,’ says jailed soldier formerly known as Bradley”

  7. Terrene says

    I grew up and lived in the UK for 40 years and never once wrote and complained to Aunty Beeb while I was there. Now I have. And am very happy to do so in support of Chelsea Manning. Thanks for the prompt, Alex. Goodness, I feel like a regular Global Citizen now! I like this FtB malarkey. It’s a very good thing.

  8. Nick Gotts says

    Complaint sent. Thanks for the prompt – I’d noticed this, but not done anything about it.

  9. CaitieCat says

    Thanks for this, Alex. Most of my trans* friends and activists are going (as I am) on a mass media blackout for at least a few weeks, until the tsunami of transphobia has passed. There’s just no way I have the strength to keep my depression in check when the media are deriding someone very like me mercilessly.

    Thanks also to everyone on the thread who’s sent a complaint; if you are able to keep doing so, please do, we really need your help on this. They won’t listen to us, we’re just weird tranny freaks, but they may listen to you cis folk. Write your media outlets when they get it wrong, AND when they get it right. Know that when they get it right, they WILL be swamped with communications asserting how wrong it is to treat us with basic dignity and humanity; if you want to be a trans* ally, this is your Big Moment.

    Ignoring all mass media for a month in 3…2…1…

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