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Times editor John Witherow defends trans coverage as ‘not biased’

Vic Parsons May 20, 2019

John Witherow, editor of The Times, said the paper is "sympathetic" to transgender issues.

Newspaper editor John Witherow has given evidence that The Times‘ coverage of transgender issues is “very sympathetic,” a court has heard.

John Witherow, 67, the current editor of the newspaper and one of the UK’s longest serving editors, rejected allegations that the Times‘ reporting of trans issues is imbalanced and adversarial to trans people.

The allegations have been made as part of a case brought by Katherine O’Donnell, the former night editor of The Times’ Scotland edition. O’Donnell is suing the Times for unfair dismissal and discrimination, claiming it has a sexist newsroom culture that discriminates against trans people.

O’Donnell is backed by a number of ex-Times news desk and production staff, according to Press Gazette.

Last Friday, May 17, Witherow travelled to Scotland to give evidence in the case, which is being heard at the Edinburgh Employment Tribunal.

After being shown dozens of stories by O’Donnell’s lawyer, Robin Moira White, Witherow was asked about a Christmas-themed satirical column by Giles Coren that made a joke about people who are “something in between” men and women. “It’s not a very good joke,” Witherow said, “and it probably shouldn’t have stayed in.”

Witherow was also shown a piece from The Times entitled “Children sacrificed to appease trans lobby.” When asked if he thought it was appropriate, Witherow said, “Yes, I think it backs up what she is saying.”

The writer of the piece, Janice Turner, won the 2018 British Journalism Awards prize for comment journalist of the year. Turner has been criticised in the past for her columns about trans rights.

A headline in The Times in 2017.

O’Donnell previously told the court that during her career at the Times she had raised concerns with senior editorial staff over its coverage of trans issues, in particular since 2013 when Witherow was appointed editor. And, she said, “To be a woman at the Times during these years was to experience systemised sexism.”

“This was widely complained about among women staff. To be a trans woman was to experience both systematised sexism and a range of comments and behaviours that were uniquely distressing,” she said.

O’Donnell began working for The Times in a staff role in January 2004, but told the court that she presented as male at work until her probation period ended.

“Once I transitioned to a female role in the office, the quality of my work did not lessen but it was immediately obvious to me that a number of the senior men in the office applied unequal standards to male and female colleagues,” she said.

“Women who were highly competent in their role and confident of expressing their professional opinion were frequently under-valued and their authority undermined by some of the male executives.”

O’Donnell said she had repeatedly raised the “problem with the culture in the company as a whole in relation to trans people” with senior managers and editorial staff. She was made redundant in January 2018.

Witherow strongly defended the paper’s reputation as “the paper of record” and said, “There is not any trans bias in The Times.”

A Times spokesperson told Press Gazette the title “is rigorously defending its case that the redundancy was not a matter of discrimination.”

“We cannot comment further at this time,” they said.

The case continues.

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