798/2021 - A Person and the Irish Examiner*

By Gabrielle Collins
Tuesday, 7th December 2021
Filed under:

The Press Ombudsman has not upheld a complaint that the Irish Examiner breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy), Principle 2 (Distinguishing Fact and Comment) and Principle 4 (Respect for Rights) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.


On 5 September 2021 the Irish Examiner published an opinion column under the heading “Let’s talk about hormones”. The column dealt with some possible consequences resulting from a Government plan to outlaw conversion therapy. It referred to concerns expressed by some therapists that the proposed legislation might result in unintended consequences for their work in counselling patients experiencing gender dysphoria. The column went on to give some consideration to the distinction between experiencing dysphoria and being transgender.

The complainant wrote to the editor of the Irish Examiner. They stated that there were “a few factual errors” in the column the subject of their complaint and they requested that they be given an opportunity “to speak to these in the interest of balance and presenting the full picture”.

The newspaper responded stating “we agree this sensitive and important issue requires scrutiny from a variety of perspectives, including the medical, therapeutic and societal ones”. The newspaper went on to state that it intended to commission further coverage of the issues involved. In the meantime the editor suggested that the complaint be directed to the Office of the Press Ombudsman.

The complainant responded to the editor noting that they had not been offered a right-of-reply and that the “medical misinformation in this article should not stand unchallenged and uncorrected”. As they were not satisfied with the response of the editor, they made a formal complaint to the Press Ombudsman repeating the claim they had made in their first contact with the Press Ombudsman’s office that the article had breached Principle 1 (Truth And Accuracy), Principle 2 (Distinguishing Fact and Comment) and Principle 4 (Respect for Rights) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.

In a submission to the Press Ombudsman’s Office the newspaper defended its publication of the opinion column. The newspaper said that the column was interrogating society’s response to transgender issues. The newspaper stated that there had been no breach of Principle 1, that “there does not appear to be a universal and single medical view on the appropriateness of hormonal treatments for teenagers with gender-identity issues”. In regard to Principle 2 the newspaper stated that the column had rooted its comments on personal experience, that the column “does not claim any wider expertise and makes no claim to have a medical qualification”. The newspaper also rejected any suggestion of “inappropriate influence of undisclosed interests” as referred to by the complainant. In regard to Principle 4 the newspaper rejected the “complainant’s inaccurate characterisation” of the column and that the column appreciated the “link between the heated atmosphere around the issue, and the position therapists are in”. The newspaper concluded the article had not been based on malicious misrepresentation or unfounded accusations.

In a submission to the Press Ombudsman on the editor’s response to their complaint the complainant challenged the newspaper’s defence of its column. They said that the evidence on the reversibility of puberty-blockers is more “equivocal” than the newspaper’s interpretation. They said the article made no reference to possible side effects of puberty-blockers or cross-sex hormone therapy. As such the article wasn’t, in their view, “balanced”. They said that they had sought an opportunity to respond in the Irish Examiner to the article, but the offer to respond was not accepted by the newspaper. In regard to Principle 2 they stated that “… some subjects, and I would argue distressed gender dysphoric adolescents would be one of them, are too important to not be fully informed on, it is worse again to be misinformed and give misinformation to a vulnerable group of people”. In regard to Principle 4 they stated that the columnist “proceeds to portray therapists and doctors as gatekeepers motivated by fear of young people’s freedom.” They said that the article “goes on to describe hypothetical therapists and doctors acting in bad faith, bullying their patients and clients”.

As the complaint could not be resolved by conciliation it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.


This is a difficult complaint on which to determine an outcome. I have no doubt that on the one side the columnist and the newspaper and on the other side the complainant were acting in good faith and have the best interest of vulnerable people in mind. The subject matter is also extraordinarily sensitive and debate on the issues raised remains unresolved, as does the evidence to support some specific positions.

Principle 1

Both the complainant and the newspaper accompanied their submissions with supporting evidence on dysphoria and hormonal treatment. It is clear that the debate on treatment, including counselling, hormonal treatment and surgery, is on-going and currently inconclusive. This is evidenced by a wider debate on trans issues which has emerged in the last twelve months and which has on occasion become quite heated. I can find no evidence that the Irish Examiner failed to meet the requirement in Principle 1 of striving at all times for truth and accuracy. Some of the dissatisfaction expressed by the complainant relates to the column’s association of dysphoria with largely unrelated issues such as teenage menstrual cramps and acne. Whilst this frustration may be recognised, it is not grounds to uphold a complaint of a breach of Principle 1. 3

Principle 2

The column was clearly identified as an opinion piece. There was no confusion between fact and commentary. The additional requirement found in Principle 2 for the press not to be inappropriately influenced by undisclosed interests was raised by the complainant. I could find no evidence that Principle 2 of the Code was breached.

Principle 4

This Principle requires the press not to publish matter based on malicious misrepresentation or unfounded accusations. I can find no evidence that this requirement was breached by the Irish Examiner. The complainant certainly feels that therapists working in the area of gender issues were maligned in the article and that sufficient care was not taken in checking facts. However, the column was making general comments about society, rather than commenting specifically on therapists and the column’s conclusions cannot be found to be based on malicious misrepresentations or unfounded accusations.


Frequently editors respond to challenges to opinion pieces by offering a right-of-reply, either publishing a letter or offering the opportunity to have an article, which could address some of the issues, published. It is quite clear that there is no automatic right-of-reply available to people who simply disagree with columnists’ opinions. A right-of-reply is always at the editor’s discretion. In this instance the editor chose not to offer a right-of-reply, either by letter or an opinion piece, but did say that the newspaper would commission other viewpoints. Newspapers play a significant role in providing platforms for public debate and discussion on important topics. I welcome the decision of the editor to commission further articles on the subject matter of transgender adolescents and their treatment.

19 November 2021

*This decision is anonymised and presented in a gender-neutral manner at the request of the complainant.