Scottish newspaper The National has won an IPSO complaint brought by SNP MP Kirsty Blackman over a column by fellow politician Joanna Cherry who mentioned allegations of transphobia against herself.
Cherry wrote for the Newsquest pro-Scottish independence newspaper in April addressing her departure from a frontbench SNP role in Westminster two years earlier, which she said happened after she “started asking awkward questions about the party’s internal management”.
Cherry wrote: “Others, including Kirsty Blackman, made it clear from their social media attacks on me that I was being sacked for ‘transphobia’. I am still waiting to hear the evidence in support of these attacks which were, of course, in breach of the party’s code of conduct.”
Blackman complained to the press regulator, via SNP researcher Dr Jonathan Kiehlmann, that she had never claimed on social media that Cherry had been “sacked for ‘transphobia’” or commented on the reasons for her removal from the frontbench.
Kiehlmann did acknowledge that Blackman has been “critical of Ms Cherry’s behaviour towards trans people, which she believed led many young and LGBT people to leave the party, and that, later in 2021 after Ms Cherry’s removal from the frontbench, Ms Blackman supported calls for action against Ms Cherry for her alleged transphobia”.
But he added that “given the article described the online abuse faced by politicians, it was important that the record be put straight” where it was inaccurate.
The National did not accept a breach of the Editors’ Code, arguing Cherry had been “making a point around the ‘wider political climate’ behind her removal from the frontbench, in the context of a column clearly distinguished as her personal view”.
The National provided a November 2021 tweet by Blackman that it said was an example of the posts that formed the basis for Cherry’s view. The post said: ‘“Kirsty, why do you keep publicly criticising Joanna Cherry’s views on trans issues?” “Because complaining through the proper channels, repeatedly, for years, has resulted in nothing happening and these views still being expressed – and still causing harm to so many people.”’
IPSO ultimately agreed with The National, saying the passage in question “fell short of being a factual assertion about the precise content of such posts. Rather, the writer was expressing her view as to what the posts represented.”
The complaints committee said the article “sufficiently distinguished the passage as the writer’s interpretation of Ms Blackman’s social media posts”.
Cherry and Blackman have a history of disagreement. In October 2021 Blackman retweeted a post calling for Cherry to be expelled from the SNP, although she later deleted it and posted: “I am clear though, @theSNP needs to do more to tackle internal transphobia, including sanctioning or expelling those in the party who are transphobic.” In June this year Cherry reportedly “rolled her eyes and scoffed” at a statement by Blackman during a Westminster debate about whether to change the definition of sex in the Equality Act.
Dr Kiehlmann has previously complained to IPSO about a 2021 Scottish Mail on Sunday story that reported he had “been ‘vocally criticising’ Ms Cherry, ‘openly and in public’”, something he said he had not done. He was successful in this complaint, with IPSO saying the newspaper “should have taken steps to verify the claim prior to publication, such as with an on-the-record source or the complainant”.
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