SWU media guidelines take next step in gaining recognition from press

Staff from IPSO, SWU, and Campaign Collective stand in front of the "IPSO" sigh at the IPSO office in November 2022
In the photo, from left to right, are: Rosemary Douce, Standards Officer, IPSO; Jane Debois, Head of Standards & Regulation, IPSO; Simon Francis, Founder Member, Campaign Collective; and John McGowan, General Secretary, SWU

Following publication of guidelines for media reporting of social workers, the Social Workers Union (SWU) recently met the regulator of most press and associated digital media in the UK, the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO).

The guidelines were developed after members of SWU and the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) came forward with harrowing stories about the impact of media reporting on the profession.

At the meeting, SWU General Secretary John McGowan stressed the harm that reporting on social workers causes and how – on rare occasions – media reporting of court cases can portray law-breaking as something that can be excusable or shows perpetrators as victims.

The original guidelines were produced in consultation with IMPRESS, a press regulator, and with the support of other organisations and the chief social workers of England.

IPSO pledged to help social workers understand their rights under its own existing code.

The organisation will help social workers and mental health professionals know when and how they can make a complaint if they feel media coverage is inaccurate or causes them harm or distress.

SWU and BASW will also look to provide an information session to IPSO’s Journalist Advisory Panel on how reporting can impact social workers and will develop a log of examples of problematic media coverage to help build a body of evidence which may be able to inform future work.

In addition, IPSO and SWU agreed to work together to understand how the IPSO Editors’ Code of Practice and guidance on reporting court cases inform the new guidelines.

For example, when reporting on a court case, journalists may inaccurately report what was said by a social worker giving evidence. Or may not report key information which could create a negative impression of the role of an individual social worker in the case.

In other examples a journalist may use a public interest defence to name a social worker who then will be blamed locally for an issue, but prior to an investigation which would determine if it was an individual or organisational fault which caused the issue.

The Social Workers Union and BASW will continue to push for meetings with representatives of the media to discuss the code and urges social workers to report examples of problematic reporting to the Union or to BASW.