In 2019, feminist group Level Up approached IPSO with a set of standards that the press should follow when reporting incidents of fatal domestic violence.
But the Editors’ Code – the body which controls the standards which IPSO claims to “enforce” – rejected these proposed reforms.
IPSO said that the reforms would be adopted as “guidelines” instead. However, these guidelines have no enforceable effect and, as a result, many newspapers continue to misreport on cases of domestic abuse.
Other attempts to improve press reporting of matters affecting women and girls include Hacked Off-backed campaigns to change the Editors’ Code in the areas of sexualisation of women in public life, and “up-skirting” style photographs in the press. These were highlighted in Hacked Off’s recent “Leveson Lecture” given by Jess Phillips MP. Regrettably, all initiatives to improve the Editors’ Code in these areas have been rejected by the editors which control it.
The impact of this kind of unethical press coverage is felt by women and girls every day.
A textbook example of unethical reporting of violence against women appeared on the 22nd of April 2021, with a Daily Star report headlined “Man ‘threw sex worker out of window when she failed to please him with her skills’”. The article reported that a woman who worked as a sex worker was thrown out of a window by her client.
No respect is afforded to the woman who suffered this act of violence in the headline. Level Up’s standards for domestic abuse reporting – which surely should apply to others affected by violence in this way – state that the dignity of the woman must be protected. This article already violates the guidelines with just the headline, which trivialises the violence and offers a justification for the act.
This is a story of a woman being attacked by a man. The fact that the woman may have been a sex worker is not fundamentally relevant, and appears to have been included only to attract clicks and support his apparent “defence”.
Articles like this show that guidelines alone are simply not good enough, and significant reform is needed to the Editors’ Code.
The reporting of violence against women in the media remains an area urgently in need of improvement.
Read more about Level Up guidelines here
Words by Emma Ireland, Hacked Off intern