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Death threats prompt new guidance for journalists on covering social work

Carol ReidThe Social Workers Union has launched new guidance for journalists in a bid to provide more protection for those working in the profession.

The SWU has launched the guidelines after claiming one social worker whose name was revealed by the media ended up in police protection after receiving death threats, while another was harassed and left her job as a result.

The guidance urges journalists not to name social workers or identify them as working on a particular case, unless they are authorised to do so by court proceedings.

Reporters are also called on to recognise social workers “are not spokespeople or able to breach confidentiality so cannot defend themselves from allegations or misrepresentation, by responding to or correcting the record”.

Other principles of the guidance include taking care to report on cases involving vulnerable groups accurately and in accordance with other standards relating to legal – or potential future – legal proceedings, ensuring the right to privacy of social workers, and avoiding the portrayal of law-breaking as acceptable or excusable.

SWU national organiser Carol Reid, pictured, said: “Social workers are on the front-line of helping the most vulnerable in society.

“In their roles, social workers have to carry out statutory duties. Therefore, it is correct and accepted that these professionals – like their colleagues – are open to public scrutiny.

“However, unlike colleagues in general nursing, police and social care, social workers tend not to receive balanced coverage in the media.

“Indeed, it is often the case that social workers only make headlines when things have gone wrong.

“To avoid unbalanced reporting on social work and social workers, and to ensure they are covered fairly, on matters of public interest, this document sets out helpful guidance.”

The guidance, produced with press regulator Impress, can be read in full here.