Careful choice of words and pictures crucial in covering complex subjects

By Laura Wilshaw, Programme Editor, ITV News

Our business in its simplest form is words and pictures. These are the powerful tools we use to communicate the news, so we have to be consider carefully our choice of both when covering the most sensitive and complex subjects.

While the way in which the migrant crisis in the English Channel has been reported is subject to intense debate, there is little dispute that the increasing number of people attempting to cross such a dangerous shipping lane to Britain is a news story. The stories of human suffering, the instability and brutality of what most have fled, the impunity of the smugglers, and the political landscape on both sides of the Channel all fuel the story. Recent political decisions only further our responsibility as a public service broadcaster to cover it, albeit with the usual commitment to impartiality.

The debate over coverage is a useful, if sometimes uncomfortable, reminder about how we make our decisions. It reminds us of the balancing act between reporting on the humanity behind the politics, of not parroting a political narrative even when politics is dictating the agenda, nor falling into stereotyping. We don’t underestimate the power of the language we use and regularly remind our staff that there are no catch-all terms: that there is a difference between migrants and asylum seekers, that there are  differences between economic and political migrants and that each person attempting the crossing is an individual.

Nor do we take the filming of people lightly; with every story, we weigh up the expectation of privacy with our public service duty and our ability to give the full picture. At the very heart of this crisis is real, human suffering and so empathy, humanity and accountability are key to our reporting and on that basis we assign experienced journalists to cover this topic.

Each day we consider every different angle to decide its editorial justification and merit. Most decisions in this regard are editorial but we have legal counsel on hand at all times to discuss any issues that may arise and as ITV News is bulletin-led, we are able to ensure that time and space are given to weigh up what goes to air.

Featured image: credit ITV News

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Laura Wilshaw has been News at Ten programme Editor since 2019, having returned to ITV News after a stint as Executive Producer at Euronews NBC. Her programmes have gained national recognition, most recently being shortlisted in the BAFTA news programme of the year category. Prior to this she held roles as the Head of Home News and Senior News Editor for ITV News, as well as several senior position at Sky News working both within the UK and abroad.

 Laura is a regular participant in award judging panels and is also passionate about increasing the representation of women in newsrooms, something she channels into her work as a mentor and previously as a mentee with the Women in Film and Television organisation.