IPSO’s Standards Officer Rosemary Douce explains more about IPSO’s latest guidance for journalists and editors on court reporting.
Recently IPSO has launched its latest piece of guidance for journalists and editors about court reporting.
Developing and publishing guidance is a key way in which IPSO supports editors and journalists to comply with the Editors’ Code of Practice and raise editorial standards.
In 2018, IPSO produced information for the public on what journalists can and cannot report when it comes to court cases. Concerns about court reporting have recurred in IPSO’s standards monitoring, both internal (based on complaints to IPSO) and external, in recent years. For this reason, we have decided to focus on this issue and provide more information for journalists to assist them in their reporting.
It is a fundamental principle of open justice that court proceedings can ordinarily be reported on by the media in an open and transparent way. Journalists have an obligation to ensure that a report of what was heard in court is accurate and not misleading.
The guidance is structured around the Editors’ Code, focusing on key considerations for each of the relevant clauses, and contains useful case studies relating to recent and notable complaints. This guidance is not intended to replace or supersede the Editors’ Code but to complement it, so that journalists can see evidence of complaints which were both upheld and not upheld.
For example, in the complaint of Enticknap v The Gazette (North East, Middlesbrough & Teesside), information in the court report came from a press release issued by the police. Ordinarily, journalists should be able to rely on such information but in this case, there was some doubt about the details which were not verified. This meant that a man’s court case and conviction were inaccurately reported, which resulted in a breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code.
Some of the most sensitive court cases to report on are those about sexual offences, and the guidance contains important reminders about the need to protect the anonymity of victims.
Victims have potentially been identified by descriptions in reports such as the location in which the offences took place (e.g. the family home) or dates or times of meetings which would imply a particular relationship. Case studies such as A woman v lep.co.uk demonstrate the need for extra care to be taken.
This guidance has been produced after consultations with a range of stakeholders including working journalists (both national and local), and media law experts.
IPSO is not a legal body and does not seek to provide legal advice. However, the guidance does highlight some examples of legislation and signposts resources which can be provide further information. The guidance also provides a framework for the consideration of additional matters such as reporting on cases involving young people and covering cases remotely, which, given the disruption to the court service as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, is currently topical.