No change to press anti-discrimination rule – say top newspaper editors

2 February 2024

Press discrimination rule “rarely triggered” and needs to change - say Romani and Traveller charities

The discrimination rule used by most of the UK’s national and local newspapers will not be changed, say top newspaper editors – in a move branded “behind the curve” by Romani and Traveller charities.

Charities have been calling for a change in Clause 12 Discrimination in the Editor's Code of Practice because they say it does not stop newspapers from printing racist and discriminatory articles about groups – including Romani and Traveller people.

The voluntary press regulator IPSO uses an Editor’s Code of Practice that has rules including about the need to be accurate, reporting on suicide and children, and a rule – known as Clause 12 – which prevents discrimination against individuals.

The press regulator IPSO uses the Editor’s Code of Practice to make rulings on complaints about articles published by its member publications.

Press regulation in the UK is complicated. Unlike TV and Radio, which are all regulated by Ofcom, newspapers, news websites and magazines can choose between two press regulators to become members of - or to not be regulated by either of them. Most of the UK’s local and national newspapers and news publications belong to IPSO, but some choose to be regulated by Impress, a rival press regulator, while some choose to be self-regulated.

The decision not to change Clause 12 was made by the Editor’s Code Committee, following a once in every three years public consultation.

The Editor’s Code Committee is composed of independent lay members, the chairman and chief executive of IPSO and senior editors.

 Explaining their decision in their report on the consultation, the Editor’s Code Committee said:

 “Clause 12 was the subject of several submissions ranging across several subjects.

A common theme was for the clause to be extended to cover groups. The committee considered the concerns raised within each of the submissions, as discussed further below. While acknowledging the points made, it maintained its view that Clause 12 (Discrimination) should not be extended to cover groups. The Editors’ Codebook explains: “… the Code does not cover generalised remarks about groups or categories of people. This would inhibit debate on important matters, would involve subjective views and would be difficult to adjudicate upon without infringing the freedom of expression of others.””

A spokesperson for IPSO said:

“Clause 12 of the Editors' Code of Practice relates to discrimination. It says the press should avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or any physical or mental illness or disability.

Clause 12 seeks to protect freedom of expression but makes sure that individuals are not singled out for abuse.  

Through our work, IPSO continues to promote ethical and professional standards for the media. This includes links to useful guidance for journalists on our website. More broadly, laws are in place that make it a crime to incite hatred based on racial, religious or sexual orientation or if a person is transgender, or disabled. These include the Equality Act 2010 and Hate Crime Legislation. While these protections are not specifically targeted at the press, they do provide a framework for addressing discriminatory behaviour.

A spokesperson for the charities London Gypsies and Travellers and Leeds GATE, who, alongside the Travellers’ Times, submitted to the Editor’s Code of Practice consultation, said:

“Both of our organisations, and the Gypsy and Traveller people we work with, agree that freedom of speech and plural views, as the leading editors on the Editors Code Committee describe, are both incredibly important to the health of our democracy. We would welcome direct engagement from IPSO, editors and reporters on issues that matter and affect people most, such as the persistent racism, the tragic suicide rates and the accommodation crisis affecting these communities across the UK every day.

Instead, Gypsy and Traveller people are consistently othered by our mainstream press, with no healthy debate or ensuring their voices are heard. This creates a dangerous vacuum in which harmful tropes and discriminatory stereotypes stand alone, held up as fact. Inflammatory language that links Gypsy and Traveller people with ‘invasion’ or ‘plague’ is deeply dehumanising and should not have a place in our society. As most negative newspaper reports relating to Gypsies and Travellers do not name the Gypsy and Traveller protagonists as individuals, Clause 12 is very rarely triggered.

We note with hope that Clause 12 is already increasingly out of date and behind the curve of changes already apparent in society. Changes to codes of conduct made by Impress and Irish Press Code of Practice go even further to protect groups from racial discrimination. IPSO’s position may be superseded by organic change that is already happening within IPSO member publications on reporting on Gypsy and Traveller populations. Changing Clause 12 would be a powerful statement reflecting the changing ethos of the British press and wider society, whilst still safe-guarding freedom of expression.

Our organisations are keen to work with press outlets to embed some of the learnings from the Media That Moves research report into practice, centre the voices of Gypsy and Traveller people, and work towards anti-racist representation.”

The last time the Editor’s Code of Practice was changed was following the 2020 Editor’s Code of Practice consultation, when it was revised to protect the privacy of people’s mental health.

The Travellers’ Times is an IPSO member and is regulated to the Editor’s Code of Practice, but has its own in-house Clause 12, which includes groups as well as individuals.

About the Editors’ Code of Practice Committee

The committee is chaired by Chris Evans (Daily Telegraph). Other members of the committee are: National newspapers: Gary Jones (Daily Express); Ben Taylor (Sunday Times); Ted Verity (Daily Mail). Regional newspapers: Maria Breslin (Liverpool Echo); Ian Carter (Iliffe Media); Gary Shipton (National World). Scottish press: David Clegg (The Courier). Magazines: Tina Sany-Davies, Bauer Media. Lay members (ex officio): Lord Faulks (Chairman, IPSO); Charlotte Dewar (Chief Executive, IPSO). Independent lay members appointed by IPSO’s appointments panel: Sarah de Gay; Jay Stone; Steven Vaughan.

Mike Doherty/TT News

(Lead picture: Stock photo by Bank Phrom on Unsplash)