Peers have backed Britain’s equality chief after she was “irresponsibly attacked” in an attempted coup by trans-activist civil servants.
Baroness Falkner of Margravine, 68, the chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), has received the support of 54 cross-party peers including Lord Frost, Baron Roberts and Labour and Lib Dem members.
In a letter to Ofcom, they took aim at Channel 4 for being “complicit” in attempts to “undermine” the crossbench peer by broadcasting a series of “emotive, one-sided and unsubstantiated” claims against her from more than 20 disgruntled current and former staff members at the quango.
The row centres on a dossier of 40 allegedly vague allegations of “bullying”, “harassment” and “discrimination” drawn up by an unknown number of EHRC civil servants and senior executives about Baroness Falkner and the expert commissioners on its decision-making board, with one bemoaning a “lack of psychological safety”.
The allegations, being investigated using £100,000 taxpayer cash by Gavin Mansfield KC, an employment barrister, coincide with Baroness Falkner seeking to ensure women are represented in the trans debate since taking over in 2020.
The peers said Channel 4 News’s report on Tuesday night did not even “attempt to provide both sides of the argument” with Cathy Newman, the presenter, interviewing a little-known trans activist, Emma Laslett, and the Left-leaning Tory MP Caroline Noakes without any voices in support of Baroness Falkner.
“Instead, in our opinion, viewers were fed a piece so unbalanced as to potentially reach the point of prejudice,” the letter says, adding that the staff members interviewed in the ten-minute report “appeared to hold exactly the same opinions”. They claimed it breached Ofcom’s code on impartiality and fairness.
Ofcom confirmed it was looking into complaints it has received about the programme to determine whether there is a potential breach of rules that merits a full investigation. A spokesman told the Telegraph: “We are assessing the complaints against our broadcasting rules, before deciding whether or not to investigate.”
The peers claimed that “none of the other EHRC commissioners were approached for comment; nor was there any proper representation of opposing points of view”, nor was there any mention of “the immense amount of abuse Baroness Falkner has been subjected to, both on social media and in real life”.
This included masked trans activists placing bottles of urine outside the EHRC offices in Westminster on May 15, which reportedly led to police erecting a cordon and carrying out a controlled explosion, following months of fury from trans campaign groups at its moves to strengthen single-sex protections in equality law.
Among the peers to have signed the letter are Lord Frost, the former Brexit negotiator, Baron Roberts, the renowned historian, Lord Dobbs, the author of the House of Cards trilogy, Baron Triesman, a Blairite minister, Baroness Thornhill MBE, a Liberal Democrat and Britain’s first female mayor and Baroness Jenkin, who works with Theresa May to boost female representation in Parliament.
Channel 4 said “we stand by our reporting” and said an “invitation remains open” for Lady Falkner to appear on the programme.
One peer told the Telegraph the Channel 4 report “clearly has an agenda behind it - silencing women”.
Their letter concluded that it was an “irresponsible attack” on “Baroness Falkner [who] has an outstanding personal record opposing discrimination and prejudice of all kinds.
“It is past time that we need frank and public debate on the issues of sex and gender, but it is clear that this piece did nothing to contribute to that, rather it was complicit in promulgating the views of a small group of staff who are clearly seeking to undermine the board and the chair who has our full support.”
Lord Sandhurst, the former chairman of the General Council of the Bar and another signatory, told the Telegraph he was “astonished by Channel 4’s behaviour”, while Baroness Hayter, the Labour former shadow deputy House of Lords leader, said that “instead of covering a news story even-handedly and fairly, Channel 4 personalised the matter, making it about one woman rather than the core issue”.
The Telegraph understands that numerous campaign groups have also complained to Ofcom, including the LGB Alliance, who told Ofcom in a letter that “the allegations about Baroness Falkner went unchallenged” and that the high turnover of LGBT staff was presented without explaining “that those who ‘identify’ as LGBT+ do not represent all gays and lesbians”.
LGB Alliance’s letter to Ofcom said: “No one from any of the various LGB, lesbian, or gay men’s groups was asked to comment. This is unfortunately all too common an omission on Channel 4 News. The item seemed more like a deliberate hit job than serious news coverage.”
Baroness Falkner said in a statement that she has “every confidence in being exonerated” and has neither been interviewed nor had any formal employment complaints filed against her. These latter two points, as well as her saying she was “presenting a detailed rebuttal”, were cut out of her statement by Channel 4.
The complaints include someone rolling their eyes and staff being “worried that the commission is becoming an unsafe place to work”. Baroness Falkner’s allies have described them as “trivial” and “ideological” and out of context and said she is “determined to fight this”.
It comes as the Education Secretary confirmed that schools will be told to tell parents if a child is questioning their gender.
Parents “definitely should be informed”, Gillian Keegan told Mumsnet.
Asked to respond to a secondary school teacher who said she has been told to affirm a pupil’s new name and pronouns immediately while keeping it a secret from parents, Mrs Keegan said: “I don't agree with that. I think transparency is really important. I think the parents’ role is really important.”
The Education Secretary said that the requirement for schools to inform parents will be set out in new transgender guidance for schools which is due to be published this term.
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