How much does negative media coverage of social workers affect you?
- Severely (40%, 422 Votes)
- Moderately (37%, 386 Votes)
- A little (15%, 152 Votes)
- Not at all, it's all white noise (8%, 87 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,047
Social workers have been urged to report negative media coverage of the profession to inform efforts to improve press reporting on social work.
The Social Workers Union (SWU) wants practitioners to email it cases where media organisations have misrepresented the profession or revealed personal details about individual social workers, and said it would take action off the back of this.
The SWU and the Independent Monitor for the Press (Impress) have already drawn up guidelines on media coverage of social work, however, IMPRESS does not regulate the major national publications, a role which falls to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO).
SWU plans to use the reports of negative media coverage submitted by social workers to inform discussions with IPSO around potentially adopting the IMPRESS guidelines or similar.
IPSO’s readers’ advisory panel, which gives feedback to the regulator from a reader perspective, discussed media coverage of social work at its meeting in February.
The SWU, drawing on its discussions with IPSO, said that the panel had discussed a selection of articles about social work from regional and national publications and found most of them to be positive. However, the union said the panel had also identified examples of potentially misleading headlines, for example, in relation to the circumstances behind children being taken into care.
IPSO is planning to hold a webinar for social workers about its guidelines in the coming weeks.
The reporting mechanism comes amid renewed focus on the public portrayal of social workers in the light of:
- Press criticisms of social workers in relation to the murder of 10-month-old Finley Boden by his parents, six weeks after he was returned to their care by a court order.
- Criticisms from the British Association of Social Workers and individual practitioners of prime minister Rishi Sunak, for saying that social workers ignored victims of grooming gangs, and of fellow Tory MP Flick Drummond for saying that social workers stayed at home during the pandemic.
- A Guardian article from former Haringey director of children’s services Sharon Shoesmith, on the adverse effects on practice of the vitriol she and social workers received in relation to the Peter Connelly (Baby P) case, and of similar press treatment.
SWU general secretary John McGowan said: “If any social workers spot media coverage which misrepresents the profession or reveals personal details of social workers, which may be in breach of the guidelines we have published they can now report them directly to the Union and we will take action.”
You can submit links to, or images of, media coverage about social work that you are concerned about to firstname.lastname@example.org
Social work reporting guidelines
The SWU and Impress’s reporting guidelines comprise the following principles:
- Maintain accuracy and take care to report on cases involving vulnerable groups accurately and in accordance with other standards relating to legal – or potential future – legal proceedings. Journalists should consider whether their reporting makes unfair generalisations about social workers.
- Assess risk to ensure that coverage of issues does not create harm to the public and to individuals by ensuring no social workers are individually named or identifiable as working on a particular case (unless authorised to do so by court proceedings).
- Ensure right to privacy of social workers by only naming them in exceptional circumstances, such as where direct wrongdoing is proven.
- 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.
- Avoid portraying law-breaking as acceptable, excusable or perpetrators as victims. Social services, social workers or other authorities are in no way to blame for the actions of those breaking the law.
IPSO has its own editors’ code of practice, which also includes standards on accuarate reporting and respective privacy, as well as on discrimination, harassment and coverage of children and victims of sexual assault.
IPSO has also published specific guidance on areas including reporting suicide, sexual offences and deaths and inquests.