IPSO Blog: Changes to the Code to further protect survivors of sexual offences

Today the Editors’ Code of Practice Committee announced a small change to the Editors’ Code of Practice, the set of rules followed by all of the newspapers and magazines that are members of IPSO, to clarify and strengthen protections for survivors of sexual offences.

Clause 11, which protects the anonymity of victims of sexual assault, has been expanded to make clear that it applies to newsgathering as well as publication of editorial material. The addition to the Clause is outlined in bold and the revised clause will read:

11. Victims of sexual assault

The press must not identify or publish material likely to lead to the identification of a victim of sexual assault unless there is adequate justification and they are legally free to do so. Journalists are entitled to make enquiries but must take care and exercise discretion to avoid the unjustified disclosure of the identity of a victim of sexual assault.

The change was made after our Complaints Committee observed in the rulings on two complaints that the current wording of Clause 11 was ambiguous and did not make clear if it applied to the process of newsgathering as well as publication. The two rulings were Warwickshire Police v Daily Mail (upheld as a breach of Clause 2: Privacy) and Warwickshire Police v The Sun (upheld as a breach of Clause 3: Harassment). In response to our Complaints Committee’s concerns about Clause 11, the Editors' Code Committee recognised the importance of clarity in the Code, so made a change on this point.

The change comes into effect on 1 July 2019.

Survivors of sexual offences are given lifelong anonymity within the law. The Editors’ Code also bans journalists from identifying or publishing information which might identify a victim of sexual assault, with separate protections for child survivors or witnesses. Speaking to journalists, I know it can be sometimes challenging to work out how to report on sexual offences in a way which encourages transparency and openness about court proceedings, whilst also protecting a survivor’s anonymity.

To help journalists to navigate this area, last year we produced guidance on this topic aimed at editors and journalists which outlines key questions in line with the Editors’ Code and includes a number of useful case studies. It includes information on legal obligations, the rules on anonymity and avoiding jigsaw identification, and advises on language and interviewing survivors of sexual violence. We will update the guidance to reflect the change in the Code.

It is important that journalists do report on sexual offences, in a way which recognises the sensitivities of the subject matter and complies with both the law and the Code. The media plays an important role in challenging myths around sexual offences and in encouraging a broader conversation about sexual violence, which is a significant social phenomenon.