Two recent IPSO developments and one decision from the Advertising Standard Agency (“ASA”) demonstrate a trend towards more active challenging and regulation of the media in respect of issues relating to sexual offences, domestic violence and women’s health.
Firstly, IPSO published new guidance for editors and journalists concerning the reporting of sexual offences, as well as a separate set of guidance for survivors about how to handle their engagement with the media.
In the post #MeToo era, the reporting of sexual offences is (rightly) high on the media’s agenda. The newly published guidance does not amend the IPSO’s Editors’ Code, but it does provide a concise “framework” to work from and points journalists to the relevant clauses which should guide their reporting; specifically clauses 1, 7 and 11; relating to accuracy and the need to avoid victim identification. There is a particular warning that journalists should carefully consider how material they publish is going to be presented online and via social media to prevent the victim from being identified, including via jigsaw identification. This follows, by way of example, the 2012 Ched Evans rape trial, when the complainant was outed via social media despite qualifying for lifelong anonymity under the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992. The individual had to change her name and move to a different town following the incident. Evans was later acquitted of the charge following a retrial.
The guidance also explicitly says that although the Code does not set out the language to be used to describe sexual offences, “care should be taken not to choose terminology which sensationalises the offences, apportions blame or implies that the victims consented to the sexual act.”
The publication of this new, focused guidance came one week after IPSO agreed to enter discussions with “Level Up”, a feminist organisation, to discuss potential new guidelines for the media on the reporting of deaths linked to domestic violence. Level Up argues that the media often report such deaths “in a way that compromises the dignity of the deceased woman and her surviving family” which has “lasting traumatic impacts on surviving family members”. The organisation is specifically concerned about issues of accountability, arguing that certain media reporting includes “speculative “reasons” or “triggers”” for the deaths and do not clearly place responsibility on the perpetrator. IPSO has said that it “welcome[s] initiatives by groups concerned about the reporting of particular issues”.
Separately, it was reported that in a ruling on MYA Cosmetic Surgery Ltd the ASA has banned an ad for breast enlargement broadcast this summer. The ASA had received 17 complaints about the ads, including from the Mental Health Foundation, finding that “the ad went beyond presenting the lifestyle of women who had breast enlargement in a positive light and implied that the women were only able to enjoy the aspirational lifestyle shown, and to be happy with their bodies, because they had undergone that surgery.” This decision may have little practical impact- it does not ban TV advertising for cosmetic surgery outright which is something that the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons itself endorses- but it does set some precedent for how similar ads should and could run in future.
Although the practical impact of both initiatives is yet to be seen, these developments suggest a concerted effort by IPSO and the ASA to engage with and influence the media portrayal of these sensitive issues; something which is clearly to be welcomed.
Demelza Hassani is an Associate, Entertainment and Media Industry Group at Reed Smith LLP