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Press regulator to issue new guidance on stories about Islam or Muslims that ‘will not impinge right to criticise or challenge’

Press regulator the Independent Press Standards Organisation will publish guidance later this year on the reporting of Islam and Muslims in the UK.

IPSO, the UK’s largest press regulator, said the guidance would “help journalists to report on a sensitive area whilst ensuring that it does not impinge their right to criticise, challenge or stimulate debate”.

The regulator has previously published guidance on the reporting of sexual offences, suicides, deaths and inquests, stories involving transgender people, and using information taken from social media.

It is also considering introducing guidelines and a new clause in the Editors’ Code of Practice covering the reporting of domestic violence deaths.

Guidance issued by IPSO is non-binding and is supplementary to the Editors’ Code of Practice.

IPSO says its guidance is “designed to support editors and journalists” and “does not limit or restrict editorial decision making, but may inform that decision making”.

In a blog outlining IPSO’s planned standards and monitoring work for 2019, head of standards, Charlotte Urwin, said improving the reporting of Islam and Muslims was one of the regulator’s five priority areas for the year.

Urwin said IPSO began working on producing guidance for journalists on the reporting of Islam and Muslims in the UK in October 2018, describing it as “an area of broad political and social concern”.

She said IPSO has established an informal working group, which includes academics with research experience relating to Islam and Muslims in the UK and representatives of relevant organisations, to help draft the guidance.

It will also engage “widely” with journalists and editors ahead of the guidance being published this autumn, she said.

Of the approximately 320 complaints investigated by IPSO with a ruling published in 2018, nine related to coverage of Islam or Muslims in the UK.

Of these, five were upheld by IPSO as a breach of the Editors’ Code of Practice by Press Gazette’s count.

These were:

Two years ago, Press Gazette editor-in-chief Dominic Ponsford called on IPSO to take action and improve the way Islam is covered.

Press Gazette found 12 corrections about stories relating to Islam and just one such story about Christianity in complaints involving IPSO in 2015-16.

Ponsford wrote: “IPSO needs to fulfil its stated remit of not just brokering the resolution of complaints but raising standards.

“It is not just the right thing to do but a vital commercial imperative if the newspaper industry is going to effectively compete with the chatter of unregulated online news and social media.”

IPSO said at the time that it regularly meets with representative groups on a wide range of matters, including how religion is reported, and that it used these interactions to consider what extra guidance to issue.

Another of IPSO’s priority areas for 2019 is the reporting of major incidents following the Manchester Arena terror attack in May 2017.

The Kerslake Report into the preparedness for and response to the attack, published in March last year, found that IPSO should consider writing new guidelines to deal with media intrusion in the wake of terror attacks.

It found “intrusive and overbearing” media behaviour had resulted in “most” families of those killed and injured in the attack on 22 May 2017 having negative media experiences.

Urwin said Lord Kerslake’s recommendations were taken “very seriously”, with IPSO expanding its work raising awareness of how it can support victims, families and the agencies that work with them in situations involving major incidents.

IPSO will this year develop guidance for reporting on major incidents, as recommended by the report, and work “proactively” with first responders to “make sure they are aware of how we can help”.

The regulator’s other priorities for the year are focused on media literacy, the reporting of domestic violence, and producing updated guidelines and newsroom training on court reporting and how to deal with prejudicial online comments relating to articles about proceedings.

The priorities were chosen by examining complaints received and the wider media landscape, and engaging with groups interested in coverage of specific issues, Urwin said.

Daily Express editor Gary Jones, who took the top job at the paper in March last year, told MPs a few months later that the title had in the past created an “Islamaphobic sentiment”.

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