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BBC upholds complaint against Today presenter Justin Webb for saying trans women are males

The executive complaints unit ruling has been discussed with Webb and the Today team.

By Charlotte Tobitt

The BBC has upheld a complaint against Today presenter Justin Webb after he said “trans women, in other words males”.

Webb made the comment during a discussion about new International Chess Federation (FIDE) guidelines on 22 August last year regarding whether being biologically male can give players an advantage in the game.

A listener complained that the comment amounted to Webb giving his personal view on a controversial matter in breach of the BBC’s requirements on impartiality.

The BBC‘s executive complaints unit said, in a ruling published on Thursday, that it was not in a position to determine Webb’s personal opinion on the issue but that it was not necessary to do so in order to judge whether he had breached impartiality rules.

It said: “The ECU understood Mr Webb’s intention in using the phrase ‘trans women, in other words males’ was to underline the question arising from the FIDE guidelines but noted a press line issued at the time included an acknowledgement that his phrasing did not convey an entirely accurate impression.

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“In relation to impartiality, however, the ECU considered it could only be understood by listeners as meaning that trans women remain male, without qualification as to gender or biological sex, and that, even if unintentional, it gave the impression of endorsing one viewpoint in a highly controversial area.  It therefore upheld this aspect of the complaint.”

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The ECU said this finding has now been “discussed with Justin Webb and the Today team”.

Webb had a similar ruling partly upheld against him in February 2022 after alluding to his personal view on transphobia accusations against university professor Kathleen Stock.

During an introduction of Radio 4’s newspaper review in October 2021 he said: “And quite a lot of coverage still of Kathleen Stock, the academic from Sussex University who’s been abused by students who accuse her, falsely, of transphobia.”

In the same month, Webb was criticised for asking Liberal Democrats leader Ed Davey if there should “not be spaces where biological males cannot go” in reference to trans women.

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Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
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