IPSO Blog: Our standards and monitoring work in 2019

Head of Standards Charlotte Urwin on plans for our standards and monitoring work in 2019 including new guidance on a range of important topics, wider engagement with groups and people with concerns about particular coverage and more work to support journalists to continue to produce high quality content.

January – the month of resolutions and new plans – seems like a good time to set out some of our plans for standards and monitoring work in 2019. It’s an ambitious programme which includes new guidance on a range of important topics, wider engagement with groups and people who have concerns about coverage of particular issues and more work to support journalists to continue to produce high quality content.

We have identified five priority areas, informed by knowledge and data from daily work with complaints, wide monitoring of the media landscape and engagement with groups interested in coverage of specific issues. We will aim to focus our monitoring and interventions on these priority areas, but as usual will continue to monitor developments through the year and make adjustments to address new issues that arise in our work.

1. Reporting of Islam and Muslims

In October 2018, we began working towards producing guidance for journalists on the reporting of Islam and Muslims in the UK, an area of broad political and social concern. The guidance will help journalists to report on a sensitive area, whilst also ensuring that it does not impinge their right to criticise, challenge or stimulate debate.

We have established an informal working group to help us draft the guidance, bringing together academics who have research experience in relation to Islam and Muslims in the UK and representatives of organisations interested in the coverage of Islam. We will also be engaging widely with journalists and editors, as well as other interested groups or individuals. Engaging with organisations and individuals interested in reporting in this area, as well as journalists, will help us to ensure that the guidance is relevant and addresses key points of concern. We expect to publish the guidance in autumn 2019.

2. Reporting of major incidents

The Kerslake Report on last year’s Manchester Arena attack included an examination of media behaviour and criticised the behaviour of some parts of the press at a time of enormous vulnerability for the families of the victims. Reporting in the aftermath of a major incident like Manchester is incredibly challenging. There is a huge public interest in reporting on these events and there is often a significant media presence. Journalists must strike a difficult balance between reporting accurately and sympathetically on tragedies on the public’s behalf whilst also not intruding into individual’s grief or shock.

We took the recommendations made by Lord Kerslake extremely seriously and last year expanded our work raising awareness of how we can support victims, families and the agencies that work with them in major incident situations. We worked To publicise details of our 24-hour harassment helpline and our Private Advisory Notices, which are circulated industry-wide and warn that a particular individual or family does not wish to talk to journalists.

We will continue this work in 2019 by proactively working with the emergency services and other first responders to make sure they are aware of how we can help. We will also develop guidance for editors and journalists on reporting major incidents as well as information to support the public in this area.

3. Reporting domestic violence

Last year we published guidance for journalists on the reporting of sexual offences. During the process of producing it, and in more recent months, we have met with representatives of different organisations which support victims of domestic violence. Those organisations recognise the important role that the media plays in raising awareness of the prevalence of domestic violence and in helping to the public to understand when someone is being abused. However, they also have some concerns about the way in which this topic is reported on.

Many of the concerns raised by organisations working in this field relate to the ways in which court proceedings are reported; some of the most difficult issues relate to reporting of submissions made in court by defendants’ legal representatives, which may include (for example) suggestions that the defendant was provoked or otherwise justified in acting, or that the victim’s actions contributed to the violence. It is very important that journalists report what is said in court accurately, making clear that what may be said by the defence is represented clearly as claims and not as fact. They must not bring into their court reporting information which is not heard in court, otherwise they may be in contempt. However, some of the ways in which that reporting is framed, such as headlines or the way in which claims are presented, can give a particular impression of the situation in which domestic violence occurs or has the potential to blame the victim for what happened.

While it’s actually quite rare that IPSO receives complaints about coverage of domestic violence, our work on standards raising is not solely in response to addressing complaints. We know from our engagement and wider discussions that this is a topic with significant social impact and we will be meeting with journalists and relevant organisations this year to talk about the challenges, prior to producing guidance on this topic. 

4. Media literacy

As one of the biggest content regulators in the UK, we are supportive of initiatives to improve media literacy and keen to contribute to the discussions in this area. We want all citizens to have appropriate levels of media literacy to make informed decisions about what sorts of news they would like to access. They should be able to identify and avoid harmful fake news, and know how to identify curated and edited content displaying high-quality journalism. We would also expect consumers to have awareness of the methods available to seek redress from the regulated press when journalists do get things wrong.

In December 2017 IPSO launched the IPSO mark, a visual symbol that can be used by all its publications to show their commitment to professional standards and an edited, regulated product. The mark is a way for publishers to communicate to readers that their content is regulated and helps publishers to distinguish themselves from the unregulated. The mark now features in most national newspapers regulated by IPSO, as well as many local newspapers and magazines. We know it features in over 66% of the titles that we regulate and  are keen to engage with publishers not currently using it.

We also want to improve citizens’ understanding of journalism and good journalistic practice. We have produced information for the public explaining the rules which journalists should follow when reporting on deaths, when taking information from social media, or when reporting on court proceedings; we have also produced information for survivors of sexual offences. In addition to these leaflets, we have also produced short videos covering the same topics and have begun a series of podcasts about media standards more generally.  This year, we will produce more content aimed at the public explaining our work and look for ways of engaging with wider audiences.

5. Court reporting

Court reporting is an integral part of journalism and it’s something we receive a fair number of complaints about, usually from people who are concerned that they have been named or think a court report is one-sided. It is rare that these sorts of concerns raise breaches of the Editors’ Code but they do demonstrate that many people do not fully understand the principle of open justice. To respond to those concerns, we published a leaflet for the public explaining what journalists can report at court last year.

On some occasions however, complaints about court reporting do raise potential breaches of the Code, such as the complaint Evans v The Argus. In addition, the Attorney General has expressed concerns that publishing articles about ongoing proceedings or trials online can encourage people to post comments online which may prejudice a trial. We will work with the Attorney General’s Office and others to produce further guidance on this topic later this year and have updated the training we deliver in newsrooms to cover this topic.

If you’re interested in finding out more about what we’re doing in any of these areas or would like to be involved please contact charlotte.urwin@ipso.co.uk