The Sun has defended its “I’m not sorry” splash from JK Rowling’s ex-husband whom she accused of domestic abuse, saying its intention was to “expose a perpetrator’s total lack of remorse”.
The newspaper tracked down Jorge Arantes in Portugal to get a response to the Harry Potter author’s allegations of abuse, which she revealed publicly for the first time in a blog post this week.
Arantes told the newspaper: “I slapped Joanne — but there was not sustained abuse. I’m not sorry for slapping her.”
The Sun describes his words as a “sick taunt”, but journalists and domestic abuse charities joined together to condemn the portrayal of Arantes’ words on the front page of the newspaper.
The Independent Press Standards Organisation, which regulates the Sun, has already received more than 500 complaints about the story.
They come under a variety of clauses of the Editors’ Code of Practice including those relating to accuracy, intrusion into grief or shock, victims of sexual assault and reporting of crime.
Charity Refuge said: “At a time of reported increased rates of domestic abuse and terrifying uncertainty for so many women, The Sun has chosen to amplify the voice of a perpetrator. There are no excuses for abuse. We, proudly, stand on the side of survivors.”
And Women’s Aid said: “Headlines matter. This morning we have been speaking to The Sun about today’s front page and the negative impact it has had, and we will continue to speak to them to reflect survivors’ voices. We listen to and believe survivors of domestic abuse.”
Responding to the criticism, the Sun said in a statement: “We were disgusted by the comments of JK Rowling’s ex-husband, and branded him ‘sick’ and ‘unrepentant’ in our coverage.
“It was certainly not our intention to ‘enable’ or ‘glorify’ domestic abuse, our intention was to expose a perpetrator’s total lack of remorse. Our sympathies are always with the victims.
“The Sun has a long history of standing up for abused women and campaigning against domestic violence. Our campaigns have kept refuges open, providing a safe place for women and children to escape violence, as well as getting laws changed.
“Over the years and with the support of charities we have empowered countless victims to come forward and seek help.”
IPSO has not published any formal guidance on how the Editors’ Code of Practice can be applied to the reporting of domestic violence, despite describing this as one of its priority areas. It had said it expected to do so by the end of 2019.
But it has highlighted guidance from feminist campaign group Level Up, which calls for the avoidance of insensitive or trivialising language, on its website.
Acting Lib Dem leader Ed Davey called on the Sun to donate revenue from today’s newspaper to a domestic abuse charity and wrote to IPSO calling on it to publish and enforce its own “robust” guidelines as soon as possible.
An IPSO spokesperson said: “We have worked closely with organisations with expertise in this area to run events which allow journalists to meet with survivors and hear their stories and concerns.
“We include guidance on reporting domestic abuse on our website as part of the resources we make available for journalists. We also have ongoing relationships with survivor organisations, which enable us to support them to address any concern about reporting.
“We will continue to work with survivors, representative organisations, editors and journalists to raise awareness and improve the standard of reporting on these important issues.”
The National Union for Journalists has also published its own guidelines urging titles to “avoid comments which could be interpreted as making excuses for the abuser, such as commenting on his remorse…”
Among the journalists and public figures criticising the front page were Yorkshire Post editor James Mitchinson and Labour MP Harriet Harman:
My reporters, sadly, attend court hearings regularly where domestic violence is raked over. Never, EVER, would I blast up the perpetrator's defence. Especially a boastful lack of contrition.
If this is journalism, I'm starting to think I'm in the wrong job. pic.twitter.com/OJctXorTfN
— James Mitchinson (@JayMitchinson) June 11, 2020
This isn’t journalism. Why on earth would anyone drag up a domestic violence abuser to give him a voice because his ex wife is famous? No justification for this at all. https://t.co/8tEvA90N5h
— Nicola Adam (@jabberingjourno) June 12, 2020
Utterly chilled at The Sun front page. JK Rowling took the brave and painful step of speaking out about the abuse she and daughter suffered. But apparently all we should care about is that the man who admits to hitting her “isn’t sorry”. Did anyone actually expect him to be?
— Rachel Cunliffe (@RMCunliffe) June 12, 2020
— Harriet Harman (@HarrietHarman) June 12, 2020