IPSO Blog: Working to understand more about reporting on domestic violence

Head of Standards Charlotte Urwin shares her thoughts on the recent interaction between IPSO and people with direct experience of domestic violence - and how it helped with understanding more about the challenges of reporting this sensitive topic from the perspective of survivors.

As part of our work around reporting of domestic violence, we recently hosted an interaction between IPSO’s staff and journalist advisory panel and people with direct experience of domestic violence. It was facilitated by Angles: A Different Take on Sexual and Domestic Abuse, a project delivered by the award-winning charity On Road Media.

We know from our engagement and wider discussions that this is a topic with significant social impact, so this interaction, as well as other meetings with journalists and relevant organisations, was helpful to understand more about the challenges of reporting this sensitive topic from the perspective of survivors.

I also hope that it was useful for the survivors and organisations who work with them to meet journalists and people who work in press regulation to understand some of the challenges faced when balancing freedom of expression whilst protecting the rights of individuals.

The interaction was a fantastic way of bringing together and we were able to have in-depth conversations about some very difficult topics, including the potential for coverage to be retraumatising for survivors, the challenges of court reporting, and the different ways of portraying people’s stories.

It was useful to hear both the positive and negative experiences of those who have shared their stories with the media. Many survivors expressed a need for guidance around this (similar to IPSO’s guide for survivors of sexual violence) as there is often a lack of understanding about what journalists can and can’t do and the rules they must follow. This was especially true of court reporting, where there is some confusion around what can be reported in relation to legal proceedings.

Despite different approaches to the topic there were a number of areas of agreement and commonality including the desire to help survivors tell their stories better (if they would like to).  This might include thinking of different ways to portray the issues and looking at domestic abuse through different frames - for example, by focusing on the survivor, not the perpetrator.  

Some journalists at the interaction said that when covering these kinds of stories in the future, they will start asking what people hope to get out of telling their story and will focus on the positive aspects rather than the event itself. Many attendees agreed that by taking this approach, the media has the power to change the narrative around domestic abuse and open up conversations.

The attendees from the Angles group said that as a result of the interaction they had much more understanding around the challenges that journalists face and of how the media works, including how journalists source information, time restraints and the amount of coverage expected to be produced each day.

They also agreed that the domestic abuse sector and the media need to work together to create accurate stories and that we need clear messaging for time-poor journalists. The sector also has a responsibility to come up with solutions together with the media, not just problems.

You can find out more about the work of Angles here.