As an international media ethics news site, iMediaEthics frequently covers issues addressed by press councils, press ombudsmen, and press regulators. Below, in no particular order, we’ve collected nine important, interesting rulings and guidance from international groups that were made in 2016.
1. Reporting on HIV/AIDS: The Australian Press Council ruled this fall on Australian media revealing a dead man’s HIV/AIDS status in news stories about his death and off-the-grid life. The council argued the disclosure was sensitively and fairly done, given the man told doctors before his death he was unaware of his medical status and that he could have had treatment. iMediaEthics asked the Society of Professional Journalists’ ethics chairman Andrew Seaman for advice on reporting on HIV/AIDS. Read “Is it OK for Australian newspapers to disclose HIV/AIDS status of dead man?”
2. Reporting on Sexual Assault: In February, the Canadian Association of Journalists’ Ethics Advisory Committee offered advice on reporting on sexual assault victims. Read “How to Report on Alleged Sexual Assault Victims: Advice from Canadian Ethics Committee.” In the fall, the Australian Press Council reminded journalists on the importance of careful wording when reporting on assault, as a headline used the phrase “wild sex” when a woman was unable to consent and there are rape allegations against the men in question.
3. Reporting on Domestic Violence: This year, the Australian Press Council published guidance for reporting on domestic abuse, or domestic violence. iMediaEthics reviewed the guidelines and asked the council’s chair what prompted the advice and how it was developed. Read “How to Report on Domestic Abuse: New Advice from Australian Press Council.”
4. Reporting on Transgender people: IPSO released standards about best practices for reporting on transgender people and transgender issues, after consulting with transgender advocacy groups. It was the first time IPSO released guidance outside of its code. Read “Reporting on Transgender People and Issues: Press Regulator Issues Guidance.”
5. Fatima Manji: More than 1,400 people, including Channel 4 anchor Fatima Manji, complained to UK print regulator IPSO over the Sun‘s Kelvin MacKenzie column about her. The complaints and controversy surrounding the column make the matter significant in a year review of press council rulings. MacKenzie criticized Channel 4 for putting Manji on air to report the breaking news of the Bastille Day terror attack by truck in Nice, France, alleged at that time to have been carried out by a Muslim extremist. Manji is a Muslim who wears a hijab on the air.
IPSO ultimately ruled that while MacKenzie’s column was “deeply offensive” and upsetting to Manji and others, the column wasn’t against press guidelines because he was expressing his personal opinion. IPSO also said that its guidelines only banned “prejudicial or pejorative references to an individual” because of religion, but didn’t ban those references to an actual religion itself. Manji called the ruling “frightening” and argued it gave the “green light” to “open season om minorities.”
Separately, UK broadcast regulator rejected 17 complaints against Channel 4 for having Manji on air.
6. While IPSO, the UK print regulator, has been active and managing more than 2,500 publications since its opening after the phone hacking scandal, another UK press regulator got on its feet this year. IMPRESS, which has a few dozen publications signed up as members, was approved by the Press Recognition Panel in October. Over the summer, IMPRESS released a draft ethics code.
7. While some outlets, including the Washington Post, have lost their readers’ representative or ombudsman positions in recent years, Hawaii’s Civil Beat, a Hawaii outlet “dedicated to public affairs reporting,” appointed its first readers representative, Brett Oppegaard. The Guardian also appointed a global readers editor, Paul Chadwick, to reflect the company’s move to a more global news outlet. And Italian daily newspaper La Stampa created a public editor position, hiring Anna Masera.
8. In May, the Toronto Star‘s public editor Kathy English looked at complaints that a photo of two homeless men was insensitive. iMediaEthics contacted an advocate for the homeless, Cathy Crowe, who offered best practices for reporting on the homeless.
9. The Australian Press Council reminded journalists this September that just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s ethical. The Courier-Mail, a daily newspaper based in Brisbane, published the name of an eight-year-old boy who was to serve as a witness in his father’s murder trial. While the newspaper argued the boy’s identity was fair game since there were no reporting restrictions, the council explained that there was no public interest in identifying the child but there was a great risk that the child could be harmed or stigmatized by the press coverage.