Journalists must be exempt from data protection laws, warn editors

Posted on: December 20, 2022 by Claire Meadows

Journalists must be exempt from data protection laws that threaten free speech, three national newspaper editors have warned government ministers.

Writing in a letter to the Justice and Culture Secretaries in relation to a proposed new journalism code of practice by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), the editors warned that the code “undermines the very basis of journalism” and risks turning the ICO into a statutory regulator of the press. 

The letter, signed by Chris Evans, Editor of The Daily Telegraph, Tony Gallagher, Editor of The Times and Ted Verity of the Daily Mail, follows a public consultation by the ICO last month on its draft journalism code of practice which concerns the use of personal data. Last month, the Society of Editors also warned that the Code threatened freedom of expression and was likely to be impractical for everyday use by journalists.

In the letter, the editors warn that the code is incompatible with journalism and risks undermining the Editors’ Code of Practice to which the majority of British journalists adhere.

The editors have urged the ICO to rethink its code, to better reflect “the realities of journalism”. It also warns that “as it stands” data protection law is “incompatible with journalism”, adding: “Other democracies which place a high value on freedom of expression… have recognised this and exempted journalism from data protection law.”

In urging ministers to use the new Bill of Rights, being introduced by Mr Raab, to protect free speech, the editors said: “There would be no better way of achieving that than by using this legislation to exempt Britain’s otherwise free press from the shackles of data protection law.

“There is a serious danger under the code as proposed that no form of journalism will be immune from expensive and time-consuming legal challenge.”

An ICO spokesperson said “The ICO’s statutory code – which is still in draft form while we review responses to our recent consultation – provides practical guidance about how to comply with data protection law that has existed since 2018. We are required to produce the code by law, and changes to the law would be a matter for government.

“The code will support journalists in doing their job of informing the public and holding the powerful to account.”

Read more here.