FAQ'S

EDITORS' CODE OF PRACTICE COMMITTEE | FAQ'S

Below is a list of Frequently Asked Questions:
Click on the one you want answered.
1. Isn't a Code written by editors likely to bias the system of self-regulation in their favour?

No. First, under the new regulatory regime introduced in September 2014, Editors do not solely write their own Code. The Editors' Code Committee will comprise ten editors and five lay members, including the Chairman and Chief Executive of the Independent Press Standards Organisation. All lay members are selected via an independent appointments process.

Second, self-regulation is a voluntary regime that relies for its success on universal compliance within the press industry. The system would fall apart if editors were to disown or disavow it or constantly try to circumvent it. Having a Code largely written by the editors is a strength, not a weakness, as it would be untenable for them to challenge a system they themselves had created.

Perhaps the best evidence of this is that no editor has ever defaulted on the voluntary obligation to publish an adverse adjudication. That record is probably unrivalled in any other press self-regulatory system.

2. What is included within the Code?

The Code includes not only the 16 Clauses specific to various areas of journalistic activity - including accuracy, privacy, the protection of children and vulnerable groups, the need to avoid harassment, limitations on the use of subterfuge and clandestine devices and so on - but also the Preamble and the Public Interest exceptions.

The Preamble sets out the "spirit of the Code" - that it should balance freedom of the individual and freedom of expression, and should be interpreted not just to the letter but also in the spirit. This is important because it places an extra obligation on editors that would not be possible within a statutory system using a legal framework.

The Public Interest exceptions give an indication of the areas where publication of material that might normally breach the Code would be allowed in the wider public interest. These include - although the list is not exhaustive - the exposure of crime, or impropriety; safeguarding public health and safety; protecting the public from being misled, and preserving freedom of expression.

3. Does it cover online, as well as printed, publications?

Yes, it they are versions of the printed newspapers or magazines and not freestanding websites, branded separately.

The Code applies to editorial material published in both printed and online versions of newspapers or magazines. A note clarifying the Code's remit, defined editorial material as that which might reasonably be expected to be subject to editorial control.

In the case of online publications, that would exclude, for example, live audio-visual material, user-generated matter - such as chat rooms or blogs - and material that had been pre-edited to conform to the standards of another media regulatory system.

4. Why doesn't the Code cover issues of taste and decency?

Matters of taste are always highly subjective, and imposing blanket rules would inhibit freedom of expression. However, editors are acutely aware of the risks of offending their readers - their paying customers - who, in a highly competitive market, would be likely to take their business elsewhere.

Newspapers and magazines are therefore highly targeted to reflect their readers' tastes and values. Some papers, for example, will publish topless pictures, but will not print expletives. Others take the opposite view. It leaves the readers free to choose. The diversity of the British press allows it to cater for a very broad range of tastes.

5. What is meant by a 'reasonable expectation' of privacy?

The Code's rules on privacy make it unacceptable to photograph individuals, without consent, in 'private places' - public or private property where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. So each case can be judged on its merits.

This means the independent regulatory body, with its lay majority, effectively builds up case-law over the years which provides invaluable guidance for both editors and complainants on what might be reasonable in any particular set of circumstances.

6. Shouldn't the Discrimination rules apply to groups as well as individuals?

The Code attempts to balance the freedom of the individual with the right to freedom of expression. While a failure to protect individuals would clearly run counter to the first of these aims, a similar protection for groups would place serious restrictions on the second, and impede normal freedom of speech.

However, the PCC, the previous regulatory body, accepted complaints about prejudicial reports on the grounds of inaccuracy or distortion and warned the press (Click here) to take care not to publish material that might generate fear and hostility where that was not borne out by the facts.

7. Are 'Citizen journalists' covered?

Yes, if they submit material to British newspapers and magazines. Editors and publishers are required to take care to ensure that the Code is observed not only by editorial staff, but also by external contributors, including non-journalists.

This would cover, for example, freelancers, specialist contributors, photographers, readers' letters - and Citizen journalists. An editor intending to publish material from such sources would need to make whatever checks, if any, necessary to ensure it complied with the Code.

8. Is manipulation of photographs a breach?

It could be. The rules on Accuracy require care to be taken not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted material, including pictures. If a picture has been digitally manipulated or altered in some way that amounts to distortion - and this has not been made clear to the reader - then it could breach the Code.

9. Why isn't chequebook journalism banned?

Payment for stories is legitimate in a free market and it would be impossible - if not actually illegal under human rights legislation - to disallow it. The Code does place restrictions on payments to criminals, and their associates, unless it is in the public interest. Similar restraints apply to payments to witnesses in criminal trials.

10. Can people complain about a story in which they are not personally involved?

This is not a matter for the Code, but for the Independent Press Standards Organisation, which adjudicates on complaints.

11. Shouldn't all publications run regular Corrections columns?

The Code demands that editors should publish corrections promptly and with due prominence. Failure to do that could breach the Code and lead to a complaint to IPSO. So the act of compliance is more important than the manner of achieving it.

Corrections columns are perfectly acceptable, and have gained ground without coercion. But they may not be universally appropriate and should, within a system of self-regulation, always be voluntary.

12. Can I suggest Code changes?

Yes. The Code is evolving all the time to suit changing circumstances. The Code Committee's job is to write, review and revise the Code. It is open to anyone - be they an ordinary citizen or a member of Government - to suggest possible ways in which to improve the Code.

One of the strengths of the system is that the Code is easily adaptable, and the existence of a standing Editors' Committee means it can respond quickly - in a few weeks if necessary - to meet new or altered conditions.

Also, the Code is reviewed annually, and the committee invites suggestions from the public and civil society.
These should be sent to: Secretary of the Editors' Code Committee, c/o News Media Association, 292 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London SW1V 1AE.