SWU event outlines how social workers can seek help from press regulator

Social Workers Union (SWU) Campaign Fund logo next to a photo of staff from IPSO, SWU, and Campaign Collective stand in front of the "IPSO" sigh at the IPSO office in November 2022

In the fast-paced world of journalism, adhering to regulation is an important part of upholding standards and accountability.

This is where regulation plays a significant role – in upholding editorial standards and protecting individual rights. In a poll by Community Care magazine, 77% of readers said that negative coverage of the social work profession affected them.

At an event organised by the Social Workers Union, the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), which regulates most newspapers and magazines, as well as digital news content, outlined how it operates and how social workers can seek its support and protection.

To ensure that publications stay up to date with the standards and regulations, IPSO requires member publications to submit annual reports of compliance. These reports provide valuable insights into the types of complaints publications receive, the training issues they address, and the evolving landscape of journalism. 

These reports help IPSO gauge the industry’s progress and identify areas that require attention.

Supporting the public and protecting individual rights

At the core of IPSO’s work lies the mission to support the public and protect individual rights. It does this through upholding editorial standards, collaborating with expert organisations, providing guidance to editors and journalists, operating a 24-hour anti-harassment hotline, and investigating and mediating complaints.

Upholding editorial standards is a crucial part of IPSO’s work. Through its standards team, IPSO ensures that member publications adhere to the Editors’ Code of Practice, which consists of 16 clauses covering various topics. These clauses include accuracy, harassment, confidential sources, and more. IPSO expects member publications not only to comply with the letter of the code but also embrace its spirit.

Beyond print media

IPSO’s regulations extend beyond traditional print media. They also cover online journalism, including websites and social media accounts associated with member publications. This recognition of the digital landscape emphasises the importance of maintaining high standards and accountability across all journalistic platforms. 

However, this does not mean that all media is covered. Therefore as part of the SWU Campaign Fund activity on the media portrayal of social workers, SWU has also met the National Union of Journalists, launched guidance with the other press regulator IMPRESS and will be shortly writing to Ofcom and other broadcast media representatives.

The rise of social media and the ease of self-publishing has also led to challenges in the media landscape. IPSO acknowledges that anyone with a smartphone can label themselves a journalist. This reality highlights the need to differentiate between various forms of journalism and cultivate media literacy to promote trusted sources of information.

Sadly, this means that while IPSO regulates publications, it does not have jurisdiction over vigilante individuals who create websites or domains to harass and invade the privacy of social workers or other professionals. In such cases, IPSO advises affected individuals to contact the police.

Editors’ Code of Practice

At the heart of the protection IPSO can offer is the Editors’ Code of Practice which comprises several important clauses that guide journalistic conduct. Of most importance to social workers are Clause 1 Accuracy (which addresses factual accuracy in articles, pictures, and comment pieces), Clause 2 Privacy (covering the intrusion into someone’s private life without consent), Clause 3 Harassment and Clause 6 Children (and the importance of protecting minors’ privacy and welfare).

Any breaches of the IPSO Editors’ Code of Practice should be reported to IPSO, who are also there to offer advice and guidance. Where coverage contravenes the SWU guidelines on media reporting, social workers can also report this to campaigns@swu-union.org.uk so that the Union is aware of the incident and can build it into its ongoing campaigning in this area.

IPSO slideshow from the event hosted by SWU on 8 June 2023