A snapshot into fatal domestic abuse reporting: how IPSO has failed, and why code change is the first step to improving reporting



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.


New guidelines


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.


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Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

Rosalind Gaucireply
December 10, 2020 at 9:34 pm

I was very interested in reading this report on domestic violence, because ever since the Covid crisis began I’ve kept seeing reports on Sky about women of various ages being killed by their partners, but there was no further reporting on this. There was a case of an elderly man killing his wife and he was arrested, but I never heard anything more about it. MPs in parliament seem to know all about this topic because it’s been mentioned, but that’s as far as its gone. What’s going on? People need to be aware of all instances of domestic violence, especially since Covid, because if they are then maybe women should be made aware of this. Violence could also be affecting children who might get injured by their parent(s) or thrown out into the street. We, the public, need to know what’s going on and what’s going to be done about it.

Charlotte Jefferyreply
December 11, 2020 at 10:26 am

My reaction to the ‘Mail’ article, is that unfortunately this is the way that such awful cases have regularly been reported in the media and therefore accepted it. How I’d have felt if it was my daughter and family being written about would have been entirely different. Total double standard, which must be eliminated, by considered reporting of such tragedies.

Roz Wallacereply
December 11, 2020 at 10:38 am

Victim blaming is not likely to go away. Newspapers make money from sensational stories. Therefore newspapers are highly unlikely to change their behaviour. Blaming the victim can be seen to justify the heartless reporting – its a vicious circle perpetuated by people to whom money is their only aim and they don’t care who gets trampled in their pursuit of it. There need to be laws with teeth to limit this kind of news coverage. Guidelines will only be flouted or wriggled around. The trouble is, as can be seen by the woefully low level of successful prosecutions for rape (or even rape cases making it to trial), the law lords don’t really give a fig for women’s issues. To be kind, I do not think the largely male dominated CPS have a clue when it comes to understanding what domestic abuse really means; what devastating effects rape and sexual have on the lives of women and children let alone coercive and dominating behaviours. To be less kind and more honest, I don’t think they put much effort into trying to find out. Unless there are serious sanctions that hit at the heart of the finances of the media, and unless such sanctions were actually to be implemented, I do not think anything will change.

Janet Bungayreply
December 11, 2020 at 6:04 pm

So many people get off on reading salacious details of sexual or domestic abuse that what we are often reading is pornography masked as news. I no longer purchase newspapers myself as so called journalists seem unable to restrain from shock headlines that appeal to the basest instincts.

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