Senior managers at the BBC and Channel 4 recently admitted that transgender storylines can be inaccurate and are frequently lacking in breadth and substance.
The admission came as Tim Davie, who chairs the BBC’s working group on the portrayal and inclusion of lesbian, gay and bisexual audiences, and Stuart Cosgrove, director of creative diversity at Channel 4, addressed a Westminster Media Forum on the portrayal of LGBT people in broadcasting.
A recent BBC report about LGB representation did not take trans people into account, although the corporation said it would carry out research in due course.
Change is in the air, however, as newly-formed media pressure group, Trans Media Watch (TMW) says it is talking to representatives of both channels, with the aim of fostering positive and more wide-ranging representations of trans people as well as putting in place guidelines to combat negative stereotypes.
According to Stuart Cosgrove, transgender is the “big single absence in broadcasting”.
He added: “I don’t think there is a single broadcaster in the UK who can say that is something they are in the process of resolving”.
And in a follow-up interview with the Stage he admitted that “people are confused by it” and that there are “high levels of inaccuracy in the way it is reported”.
When television programmes do show transgender people, the focus tended to be on “the operative moment, when someone is moving from male to female”. They fail to consider the “diversity of this society,” he said.
TMW has been working quietly behind the scenes with Channel 4 and the BBC for some while, in an effort to put together simple guidelines that would help broadcasters to avoid giving unintended offence to their transgender audience.
Sarah Lake of TMW says: “As soon as we began comparing the way trans people are stereotyped in the media with that of LGB people and other minorities, both Stuart and Amanda Rice of the BBC Diversity Unit got it immediately.
“We do not believe most of the constant casual abuse and ridicule of trans people in broadcasting is deliberately intended to be malicious. In our meetings so far we’ve not come across a single broadcaster who had ever consciously had a meaningful conversation with a trans man or woman.”
She added: “At TMW we do not claim to represent all trans people, who are very diverse. We do however believe all trans people deserve respect.”
Recent research presented to broadcasters by TMW suggest that some 78 per cent of the transgender community felt that the media portrayals they saw were either inaccurate or highly inaccurate, with only three per cent considering them accurate.