JK Rowling publisher asked Mermaids trans group to ‘censor’ legal article on free-speech ruling The Sunday Times 09.08.20
The original article is here.
JK Rowling’s publisher invited the transgender activist group Mermaids to review an article in a magazine for A-level law students, which summarised a High Court test case on freedom of expression.
The case made headlines in February when the judge likened police to the Gestapo or the Stasi for the way they responded to Harry Miller, 55, a businessman accused of sending transphobic tweets on social media.
Humberside police visited Miller’s place of work and told him his tweets would be recorded as a “non-crime hate incident”. They included a poem about transgender people and one saying: “I was assigned mammal at birth, but my orientation is fish. Don’t mis-species me.”
Management at Hodder Education, part of Hachette UK, referred the article on the ruling to Mermaids, asking it to suggest “examples we can use to counteract the tone and opinions in the piece” and to suggest changes to “anything you feel is untrue, unfair and/or offensive”.
Hachette UK is Rowling’s publisher. Some of its staff have objected to working on her children’s story, The Ickabog, because they dislike her views on gender.
In response to the invitation to suggest changes, the head of legal and policy at Mermaids sent four closely typed pages, including a comment that the article “doesn’t come over as balanced”.
Even before this, Hodder had heavily edited the court report, removing two-thirds of the original, explaining: “We also have to be very careful how we present certain views.”
The author, Ian Yule, protested to the publisher that he had not introduced personal opinions in the article, which was intended to update A-level pupils and their teachers on the court ruling.
“This article contained little or no commentary by me, and no comments whatsoever on the issue of transgenderism,” he said. “My article did not express my own thoughts or beliefs but was a straightforward and accurate report of a High Court judgment.”
He added: “If the judgment of a respected High Court judge is likely to upset such students and their teachers, they have no business studying or teaching this subject.”
In its justification for the intervention, a Hodder editor told him: “The claimant’s [Harry Miller’s] views and the judge’s [Mr Justice Julian Knowles’s] comments about transgender issues would be offensive to most of our readers and our staff.”
The publisher’s behaviour so angered Yule that he resigned as chairman of the editorial board of A-Level Law Review. He wrote to colleagues: “In the process of ‘reviewing’ my article [Mermaids] effectively destroyed it.”
For Yule, 72, who had chaired the board for nine years, the publisher’s behaviour was “far beyond parody” because at the time of the dispute Rowling — its star author — had come under attack for challenging the use of the phrase “people who menstruate” instead of women.
Daniel Radcliffe, who became a child star playing Harry Potter in the films of Rowling’s books, was among those who turned on her, stating: “Transgender women are women. Any statement to the contrary erases the identity and dignity of transgender people.”
When editorial staff threatened to stop work on her new fairytale, The Ickabog, Hachette released a statement on June 16 intended to define the boundaries of when it was valid to involve personal beliefs at work.
It said: “Freedom of speech is the cornerstone of publishing. We fundamentally believe that everyone has the right to express their own thoughts and beliefs.”
Five days earlier, James Benefield, a senior executive at Hodder, had sent Yule the Mermaids review and told him: “Mermaids have requested quite a few changes here. It is important we do follow all of the attached advice — not only is it from a trans-specialist organisation, it is also from the company lawyer who felt they were best placed to review the piece.”
He stated that it was “an issue of balance rather than of censorship or freedom of speech” and made a mysterious reference to “various occurrences in other things we’ve published”.
Another member of the editorial board, Andrew Mitchell, suggested in vain that one way out of the impasse was for A-Level Law Review to pioneer “trigger warnings” about articles that some students might find offensive and provide “safe spaces” for students by providing independent sources of advice at the end of potentially hard-hitting articles.
Harry Miller said the episode showed transgender activists have no respect for the law “because unless you go 100% along with what they want, anything less is not good enough”.
Hodder said: “In editorial disputes, it is good practice to go to an external body for a second opinion. We approached a couple of organisations for this. [Yule] chose not to engage with the Mermaids review or, for the most part, our edits. We work with many different organisations and individuals to review content, including authors, academics, charities and special interest groups.”