Head of Standards Charlotte Urwin on the work were doing with journalists and relevant organisations on the challenges of reporting domestic violence.
According to the Office of National Statistics, two women are murdered by a partner or ex-partner every week in the UK. Pick up a newspaper or magazine and you will most likely come across an article interviewing a survivor of domestic abuse or, all too often, family members or friends who have lost loved ones because of fatal domestic abuse.
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 abuse. Recently, we met with representatives of LevelUP, a campaigning group working on a number of topics, including the reporting of domestic violence. LevelUP have produced guidance for journalists on how to report on domestic abuse in a way which conveys dignity for the dead woman and helps to prevent further deaths.
LevelUP and other organisations we have met recognise the important role that the media plays in raising awareness of the prevalence of domestic abuse 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.
We know that there is considerable interest in the reporting of domestic abuse. We will publish LevelUP’s guidelines on our website next month as part of a new section containing resources from external organisations that journalists may find helpful. The section will include resources on topics such as the reporting of suicide, or of mental health, or of religion, as well as the guidelines produced by LevelUP. We know that journalists are time poor, so we hope that publishing all those resources in one place will help them to find useful information quickly.
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. We will continue to meet with journalists and relevant organisations this year to talk about the challenges of reporting in this area.