Editors have been warned about the consequences of posting stories about sex offences on social media in new guidance issued by the press watchdog.
Concurrently, IPSO has also brought out a guide for sex offence victims on what to expect when journalists cover their case, as well as information on how to approach speaking to the media about their ordeal if they wish to do so.
In its guidance for editors and journalists, IPSO noted that publishing articles about sexual offences online “raises particular challenges for editors in ensuring that the victim remains unidentified”.
It states: “You should carefully consider how the material you have gathered is going to be presented online to prevent the victim from being identified. This is particularly relevant to articles which may be published on social media platforms, or which may be open to reader comments.
“In both situations, this may create a space in which the case is discussed, with an increased likelihood of the victim being identified .Members of the public may not be aware that they must not identify victims of sexual offences or may regard this legal requirement as unfair or trivial.
“IPSO recognises that editors cannot prevent the circulation of links to stories and commentary on them hosted on third party websites. However, editors are responsible for material published on websites under their control and should think carefully before publishing these stories on social media sites or with reader comments enabled.”
In a section on language, IPSO said journalists should be aware they are reporting on “extremely sensitive and personal matters”.
The guidance states: “Editors and journalists should not lose sight of the fact that victims will often be in a particularly vulnerable position. Care should be taken not to choose terminology which sensationalises the offences, apportions blame or implies that the victims consented to the sexual act.
“If you are interviewing a victim, you should consider the impact of the interview on the victim and what support you will make available to them. This could include letting the victim choose the location for the interview, or signposting the victim to appropriate additional support.”
In its guide for victims, IPSO advises those who decide to talk to the media that journalists do not have to give them copy approval, but that they should get the journalist interviewing them to agree to it beforehand if it is something they wish to have.
The information was developed after discussions with organisations which provide support to survivors of sexual offences and domestic violence, including Rape Crisis, Solace Women’s Aid, LimeCulture and Women’s Aid.
Charlotte Urwin, IPSO’s head of standards, said: “Part of IPSO’s wider regulatory role is to provide guidance, training and engagement which leads to tangible improvements in press standards.
“We recognise the importance of supporting journalists and editors to report responsibly on sexual offences, and helping them to understand both the legal framework and requirements of the Editors’ Code.”