IPSO must act on negative narratives about disabled people and welfare recipients

  • 05 Jul 2023

The union’s Ethics and Disabled Members councils have urged the regulator to insist on ethical reporting.

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has criticised the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) for its failure to monitor and act on the harm caused by negative narratives about disabled people and welfare recipients.

In a comprehensive response to (over 600) complaints about a Telegraph article headlined “Exactly how much of your salary bankrolls the welfare state?”, IPSO determined that the article did not breach the Editors’ Code of Conduct.

Dr Natasha Hirst, NUJ president and Disabled Members’ rep said: 

“For IPSO to suggest that persistent negative framing of disabled people is mere ‘polemic’ demonstrates a shocking disregard for the real-life consequences of this rhetoric.

“Wilfully dehumanising disabled people in reporting legitimises hate speech and emboldens decision-makers who side-step their obligations to respect people’s dignity and human rights. When this style of reporting so easily evades scrutiny, it points to a weak Code and regulator that doesn’t care to use its teeth.

“The NUJ calls on IPSO to start monitoring national newspapers to identify poor framing that intentionally presents groups in a poor light. Our industry must be responsible for the consequences of such reporting instead of dodging accountability.”

Clause 12 of the Code on discrimination only allows a complaint to be raised about the reporting of an individual, not of a group of people. The NUJ reiterates its call for this clause to be opened up to cover discrimination against groups, which would strengthen the protection for minoritised groups who are the target of degrading reporting.

IPSO has turned into a simple fact checking body with virtually all its upheld complaints concerning accuracy. IPSO has adjudicated more than 2,300 of the 100,000+ complaints received, upholding more than 500 of them, but nearly 90% concern just accuracy with only about 60 complaints involving the key ethical issues of privacy, intrusion, children and discrimination.

Industry leaders assured Leveson that a new regulator would not be just a simple fact checker but would deal with the real issues that concern people. This it has failed to do.

The NUJ supported the Leveson inquiry’s call for a more structured and authoritative regulatory body with underpinning legislation. Instead, IPSO protects the interests of the owners of news publications and not your average person on the street.

Professor Chris Frost, chair of the NUJ Ethics council said:

“Although IPSO publishes quarterly summaries of issues that have generated ten complaints or more, it has not used its power to take targeted action to identify and address trends that suggest concerns over editorial standards. IPSO has the power to sanction systemic bad behaviour with significant fines but has never done so.

"We call on IPSO to step up and do the job it was set up to do – which is to hold our industry to account and insist on ethical reporting.”

The NUJ’s delegation to next week’s Trades Union Congressc (TUC) Disabled Workers’ Conference will be calling on the trade union movement to support us in our campaign for:

  • Clause 12 (discrimination) of the IPSO Editors’ Code of practice to be extended to allow complaints to be made about discrimination against groups of people and;
  • For IPSO to use its powers to monitor coverage of disability issues in national newspapers to identify and take action against systemic negative framing of disabled people and;
  • For IPSO to work with the NUJ and Disabled People’s Organisations to produce and promote reporting on disability guidelines.

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