Trans Media Watch is an organisation that aims to combat prejudiced, sensationalist and inaccurate depictions of transgendered people in the media. It is run by volunteers and depends on ordinary people within the trans community to be its eyes and ears. It aims to reflect the concerns of those people and of the community as a whole.
Trans Media Watch is concerned with issues affecting all people covered by the transgender umbrella. It deals with cases involving transsexual people, genderqueer and androgyne people, crossdressers, and intersex people. As well as tackling problems after the fact, Trans Media Watch aims to build up links with media organisations and watchdog bodies to help them work towards improved service in the future. It can provide advice to journalists and programme makers who are unsure how to approach sensitive issues, and it is undertaking research to provide information useful to public bodies working in this field.
Trans Media Watch was created in response to massive concern among trans people about an episode of the television sitcom Moving Wallpaper. In the programme, a new character called Georgina was ridiculed because she was trans. She was given little opportunity to stand up for herself and many viewers felt that a scene in which she rode away on a motorbike at the end was intended to suggest that she was ‘really’ a man.
Members of Trans Media Watch complained about this programme to the watchdog body Ofcom. The complaint was turned down, as was a subsequent appeal. Ofcom rejected the suggestion that the programme could cause harm by arguing that recent changes in the law mean trans people are no longer subject to prejudice and discrimination.
What this highlighted was the high level of ignorance about trans issues amongst the media and its regulators. Meetings with Ofcom, Channel 4, BBC, Press Complaints Commission and ITV followed, and in March 2011, Channel 4 became the first signatory to a Memorandum of Understanding, pledging to improve this situation, at a launch attended by Lynne Featherstone MP, the Minister for Equalities – the first time a serving government minister had attended a trans event. In June 2011 a representative from Trans Media Watch was invited to the Prime Minister’s LGBT reception at 10 Downing Street – one of 4 trans people in attendance.
The role of the media in shaping society’s attitudes in many areas is well documented and recent research conducted by Trans Media Watch (‘How Transgender People Experience the Media’, April 2010 >) has provided clear evidence of the effect that the media portrayal of trans people has on their lives.
Individuals in the media who wish to show their support can do so by becoming Friends of Trans Media Watch. They were delighted that Coronation Street actress Julie Hesmondhalgh, who plays Hayley Cropper, became the first Friend of Trans Media Watch in March 2011.
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