It is rare that members of the press are directly confronted with the results of their reporting decisions. But at an inquest on Tuesday the coroner investigating what can now be unambiguously termed the suicide of Lucy Meadows turned to the assembled reporters and said: “shame on you”.
Lucy Meadows was a teacher who took her own life in March this year after what the coroner, Michael Singleton, called “ridicule and humiliation” from the national press.
Meadows was born as Nathan Upton and her decision to transition to female prompted a column from Richard Littlejohn which, persisting with male pronouns, was titled ‘He’s not only in the wrong body – he’s in the wrong job.”
At the time it was unclear whether that coverage had contributed to Meadows’ death, but Singleton insisted that media attention played a part. In particular, he criticised as inadequate the decision of the Daily Mail and the PCC to resolve the issue by removing the article from the DM’s website.
Coroners are allowed to write to relevant people or organisations to suggest actions they think could prevent future deaths, and Singleton will now be urging the culture secretary, Maria Miller, to implement the Leveson Report in full – “in order,” the Guardian quotes him as saying, “to ensure that other people in the same position as Lucy Meadows are not faced with the same ill-informed bigotry.”
It is easy to be accused of ‘politicising’ a tragedy, but this tragedy is already political. In 2011, Helen Belcher of Trans Media Watch – an organisation which campaigns against negative portrayals of transgender people in the media – told the Leveson Inquiry that the trans community had “walked away from the PCC” because they regarded it as an “ineffective joke.” Many trans people, she said, no longer “bother” to complain, because “nothing ever changes”. You can watch her give evidence here (starting at 55:05).
Trans people are routinely subjected to high levels of harassment for who they are and, although the exact extent of the statistics is unclear, are murdered at a higher rate than those who retain the gender they were assigned at birth. They are also far more likely to commit or consider suicide. Hostile media coverage which treats their identity as a matter for public ridicule or hostile scrutiny cannot help, and the failure of the press to regulate itself directly contributes to these statistics.
Helen Belcher will be speaking at our Rally for Media Reform on June 17.