Society calls for further amendments to ICO Journalism Code

Posted on: November 17, 2022 by Claire Meadows

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) must further amend its draft Journalism Code if it is to be of practical use to journalists and support, rather than threaten freedom of expression, the Society of Editors (SoE) has said.

Responding to the ICO’s second consultation on its revised data protection and journalism code of practice, the Society said that the Code’s length meant that it remained impractical as a tool for journalists and editors on-the-go and that greater weight was needed throughout to make clear the public interest in freedom of expression itself. The SoE also called on the ICO to clarify within the Code its relationship with existing media regulators out of concerns that the Code risked undermining the Editors’ Code of Practice and leading to public confusion over where to direct complaints.

It said: “While the Society welcomes the fact that the revised Code has been reduced in length and that the language contained within it has been tailored to appeal to a broader audience, the Code is still far too long to be of practical use to journalists that are on-the-go.  The revised Code also does not give sufficient weight to the exemption that journalists can rely on and the public interest in freedom of expression itself.”

Pointing to the existence of media regulators such as the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) and Ofcom and the standards set out in the Editors’ Code of Practice, the Society said that it was “essential” that the Code makes clear the ICO’s role in relation to the remit of existing media regulators. It also added that a great deal of space is given within the Code to detailing privacy rights without duly acknowledging the fact that journalists will already be aware of such rights as they are contained within industry codes of practice.

It added: “It is essential that for the sake of clarity, the Code makes clear the relationship between the ICO and the remit of existing media regulators. We remain concerned that, at present, the Code risks undermining the Editors’ Code of Practice which, in turn, will likely lead to public confusion over the differing regulatory remits and where to direct complaints. 

“The Society supports the inclusion within the Code of a statement confirming that where an issue falling within the remit of a media organisation’s regulator (such as IPSO or Ofcom) occurs, the ICO will refer the matter to the relevant media regulator in the first instance.”

The success of the Editors’ Code lies in its simplicity and clarity, the Society said, attributes that it called on the ICO to consider when further revising its Code. 

It added: “The Editors’ Code sets the framework for the highest professional standards that journalists undertake to maintain and balances the rights of the individual with the public’s right to know. Journalists endeavour to adhere to these high standards on a daily basis and they recognise their responsibilities under it. Journalists understand the Editors’ Code because of its simplicity and clarity. It is made clear what they can and can’t do. It is our belief that it would be helpful if the ICO’s Journalism Code was written in the same spirit.”

The Society’s response to the consultation can be read in full here.