For too long, reporting of domestic violence in the press has been seriously inadequate.
Coverage has sought to justify the actions of perpetrators. The conduct of victims has been questioned, and victims have been blamed. The dignity of women who have lost their lives has been ignored for the sake of gorier, more compelling stories.
In 2018, anti-domestic violence campaigners “Level Up” acted to address press misreporting in this area. They produced guidelines, “to support journalists to accurately and sensitively cover fatal domestic abuse”.
These guidelines were created in consultation with experts, campaigners and victims themselves. They are the gold standard for press reporting of such abuse.
While IPSO, the press complaints-handler controlled by the corporate press agreed to publish the guidelines on their website, they have not been enshrined in the press standards code they claim to enforce – the Editors’ Code of Practice.
This means that, while the guidelines are now accessible to journalists, there is no requirement for the press to follow them and no sanction can be enforced against them when they do not.
Too often, they have been ignored.
Some IPSO members are the worst offenders when it comes to irresponsible fatal domestic abuse reporting, yet IPSO still refuses to back code change.
Among its excuses for inaction, IPSO has even said that it doesn’t receive many complaints about domestic violence coverage – an absurd position, given that in the absence of a code clause on domestic violence coverage, complaints often cannot even be made.
Until domestic violence reporting guidelines are reflected in a standards code which is properly enforced, press reporting will not improve.
Campaigners and experts on domestic violence lead calls for code change
Just this week, Level Up proposed that a sub-clause specific to fatal domestic abuse is appended to Clause 4 of the Editor’s Code (intrusion into grief or shock).
Leading advocacy organisations, White Ribbon, Refuge, Centre for Women’s Justice and WISH have also spoken out in support of the code provision promoted by Hacked Off (set out below).
IPSO yesterday claimed they are committed to working closely with groups and individuals with expertise on domestic violence reporting. If they are sincere, they will act swiftly to change the code.
Women who are the victims of fatal domestic abuse, and their families, deserve protection from sensationalised, unethical and demeaning press coverage.
The new code clause backed by White Ribbon, Refuge, Centre for Women’s Justice, WISH and Hacked Off:
A better way to report on domestic violence: proposed clause
Reporting incidents of domestic violence
1) In cases where a woman has been killed by a partner, former partner or other family member, language which appears to justify the murder or otherwise blame the victim for her death should be avoided.
2) Speculative references to factors which may have motivated the killing should be avoided, for example “reasons” or “triggers” or describing the crime as an uncharacteristic or random event.
3) Crimes involving death or injury perpetrated by a partner, former partner or family member should be referred to as domestic violence.
4) Refrain from trivialising language, and invasive or graphic details that compromise the dignity of the deceased woman or her surviving family members.
5) Refrain from speculation about the sexual histories of the victims of domestic violence.