EDITORS' CODE OF PRACTICE COMMITTEE | HISTORY OF THE CODE

The first universally-accepted Code of Practice for the British newspaper and magazine industry was drafted in 1990 to coincide with the launch of the Press Complaints Commission in January 1991. Then, it was written by a committee of editors representing the national, regional and magazine press. This gave it authority within the industry: editors would not ignore, challenge or circumvent a code they had written themselves. From 1993, the Code has been ratified by the PCC, the adjudicating body, which has a majority of lay members. The committee is currently being restructured to increase the lay membership.

From the start, the aim was to have a non-legalistic Code that was simple, flexible, balanced the rights of the individual and the public's right to know, and which could be changed rapidly in response to changing circumstances. That is still the goal, and the Editors' Code of Practice Committee has presided over more than 30 changes, including two major rewrites, since 1991. It now conducts an annual review in which it invites suggested amendments from all sections of society.

The Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) became the new regulatory body, in September 2014, following the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the British press. IPSO has a wider brief and powers than the PCC, but the Editors' Code of Practice. although amended from time to time, continues to be at its heart.

DATE CHANGE
January 1991 The first, 16-Clause Code of Practice was launched, covering areas such as accuracy, privacy and discrimination, under an Editors' committee chaired by Mrs Patsy Chapman (then editor of the News of the World).
May 1992 A new paragraph was inserted in the preamble stressing an editor's obligation to publish the Commission's critical adjudications.

Any publication which is criticised by the PCC under one of the following clauses is duty bound to print the adjudication which follows in full and with due prominence.
March 1993 Concerns about the use of bugging devices by journalists, led to a new clause being added. Clause (5) Listening Devices read:
Unless justified by public interest, journalists should not obtain or publish material obtained by using clandestine listening devices or by intercepting private telephone conversations.
April 1993 Sir David English, Editor-in-Chief of Associated Newspapers, became Chairman of the Code Committee.
June 1993 The preamble was altered to enshrine the requirement for swift co-operation by editors with PCC. The preamble now included the words: It is the responsibility of editors to co-operate as swiftly as possible in PCC enquiries.

Rules designed to avoid the risk of "Jigsaw identification" in incest cases were introduced. There were two methods by which cases could be reported whilst complying with the legal obligation not to identify the victim. A report could name the offence - incest - but not name the defendant, or could name the defendant, but not identify the crime as incest. In either case the victim was not identified.

However problems arose when different publications - or other media - opted for different methods of reporting, a child could be identified. The Code Committee ruled that only one system should be used, where the defendant should be named and the exact nature of the sexual offence should not be specified. It undertook to press broadcasting regulators to follow its lead.
October 1993 A footnote defining private property was added to Clause 4 (Privacy):

Private property is defined as any private residence, together with its garden and outbuildings, but excluding any adjacent fields or parkland. In addition, hotel bedrooms (but not other areas in a hotel) and those parts of a hospital or nursing home where patients are treated or accommodated.

Clause 8 (Harassment) was amended to refer to the above definition of private property with regard to the use of long lens cameras.
April 1994 Clause 6 (Hospitals) was amended to clarify to whom journalists should identify themselves when making enquiries at hospitals. This was changed from a 'responsible official' to a 'responsible executive'.
May 1995 The definition of private property included in Clauses 4 (Privacy) and 8 (Harassment) was altered to make clear that privately-owned land which could easily be seen by passers-by would not be considered a private place. It now read:

Note Private property is defined as (i) any private residence, together with its garden and outbuildings, but excluding any adjacent fields or parkland and the surrounding parts of the property within the unaided view of passers-by, (ii) hotel bedrooms (but not other areas in a hotel) and (iii) those parts of a hospital or nursing home where patients are treated or accommodated.
September 1995 Section (ii) of Clause 13 (Children in sex cases) was amended. Where it had previously read the term incest where applicable should not be used, it now said the word incest should be avoided where a child victim might be identified. At the same time, after consultation with the Code Committee, the Codes of the Broadcasting Standards Commission and Independent Television Commission were similarly amended in order to ensure that the 'jigsaw identification' of such vulnerable children did not occur accidentally across the whole media.
December 1996 Following concerns expressed at the time of the trial of Rosemary West, when a number of witnesses sold their stories to newspapers, Clause 16 (Payment for articles) was amended. The Code now distinguished between payments to criminals and payments to witnesses, and introduced transparency into such payments by requiring that they be disclosed to both prosecution and defence. The Clause now read:

i) Payment or offers of payment for stories or information must not be made directly or through agents to witnesses or potential witnesses in current criminal proceedings except where the material concerned ought to be published in the public interest and there is an overriding need to make or promise to make a payment for this to be done. Journalists must take every possible step to ensure that no financial dealings have influence on the evidence that those witnesses may give.

(An editor authorising such a payment must be prepared to demonstrate that there is a legitimate public interest at stake involving matters that the public has a right to know. The payment or, where accepted, the offer of payment to any witness who is actually cited to give evidence should be disclosed to the prosecution and the defence and the witness should be advised of this).

ii) Payment or offers of payment for stories, pictures or information, must not be made directly or through agents to convicted or confessed criminals or to their associates - who may include family, friends and colleagues - except where the material concerned ought to be published in the public interest and payment is necessary for this to be done.

Following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, in September 1997, there were numerous calls for revisions to be made to the Code particularly as it related to privacy and harassment. The most substantial rewriting of the Code in its six year history took place over the next three months and the new Code was ratified by the Commission in time for it to become operational from January 1998.
January 1998 The Preamble was rewritten to give greater stress to its unique feature - the spirit of the Code - and to balance the rights of the individual and the public's right to free speech. The preamble now stated:

It is essential to the workings of an agreed code that it be honoured not only to the letter but in the full spirit. The Code should not be interpreted so narrowly as to compromise its commitment to respect the rights of the individual, nor so broadly that it prevents publication in the public interest.

Clause 1 (Accuracy) was extended to deal with photo manipulation. It also absorbed the clause relating to comment, conjecture and fact.

The new wording for the privacy clause, which became Clause 3, was for the first time drawn largely from the European Convention on Human Rights, which the government had pledged to incorporate into British law. It also significantly altered the definition of a private place, which now included both public and private places 'where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy'. There had been concern that the previous Code had been far too tight in its definition of privacy and would not have protected someone from intrusion who was, for example, in a church or at a discreet table in a restaurant.

Princess Diana's death raised concerns about the behaviour of paparazzi-style photographers. To address this, the rules on Harassment which became Clause 4 were revised to include a ban on information or pictures obtained through 'persistent pursuit'. The new Clause 4 also made explicit an editor's responsibility not to publish material that had been obtained in breach of this clause regardless of whether the material had been obtained by the newspaper's staff or by freelancers.

One of the strictest clauses in the Code was introduced to protect the rights of children to privacy. The new Clause 6 in the revised Code extended the Code's protection to children while they are at school. Previously it had referred only to the under 16's. It also added two new elements: a ban on payments to minors or the parents or guardians of children for information involving the welfare of the child (unless demonstrably in the child's interest); and a requirement that there had to be a justification for the publication of information about the private life of a child other than the fame, notoriety or position of his or her parents or guardian.

The clause on intrusion into grief and shock had previously related only to enquiries made by journalists at such times. The Code Committee took the opportunity to extend this to include publication, adding the sentence:

Publication must be handled sensitively at such times, but this should not be interpreted as restricting the right to report judicial proceedings.

Throughout the Code, the phrase 'should not' was replaced by 'must not'. In addition, the section on the public interest - outlining occasions when an editor might argue that a breach of the Code was justified in order to protect the public's right to know - was turned into a separate panel without a clause number. It included a key addition: that in cases involving children the editor must demonstrate an exceptional public interest to over-ride the normally paramount interests of the child.
January 1999 Following the death of Sir David English, Les Hinton, Executive Chairman of News International, became Chairman of the Code Committee.
December 1999 After discussions with government about the implementation of a new Youth Justice Act, Clause 10 was renamed 'Reporting of Crime' and contained the following addition:

Particular regard should be paid to the potentially vulnerable position of children who are witnesses to, or victims of crime. This should not be interpreted as restricting the right to report judicial proceedings.

At the same time, the public interest defence was expanded, again mirroring Human Rights legislation. The following section on the right of freedom of expression was added:

There is a public interest in freedom of expression itself. The Commission will therefore have regard to the extent to which material has, or is about to, become available to the public.
March 2003 Following consultation with the Lord Chancellor's Department important changes were made regarding payment for articles. Clause 16 was renamed 'Witness payments in criminal trials' and now read:

16. Witness payments in criminal trials

i) No payment or offer of payment to a witness - or any person who may reasonably be expected to be called as a witness - should be made in any case once proceedings are active as defined by the Contempt of Court Act 1981. ?This prohibition lasts until the suspect has been freed unconditionally by police without charge or bail or the proceedings are otherwise discontinued; or has entered a guilty plea to the court; or, in the event of a not guilty plea, the court has announced its verdict.

*ii) Where proceedings are not yet active but are likely and foreseeable, editors must not make or offer payment to any person who may reasonably be expected to be called as a witness, unless the information concerned ought demonstrably to be published in the public interest and there is an over-riding need to make or promise payment for this to be done; and all reasonable steps have been taken to ensure no financial dealings influence the evidence those witnesses give. In no circumstances should such payment be conditional on the outcome of a trial.

*iii) Any payment or offer of payment made to a person later cited to give evidence in proceedings must be disclosed to the prosecution and defence. The witness must be advised of this requirement.

A new Clause 17 'Payment to criminals' was also created:

*17. Payment to criminals Payment or offers of payment for stories, pictures or information, must not be made directly or through agents to convicted or confessed criminals or to their associates - who may include family, friends and colleagues - except where the material concerned ought to be published in the public interest and payment is necessary for this to be done.
June 2004 In line with PCC chairman Sir Christopher Meyer's proposals for 'permanent evolution' for the PCC, the Editors' Committee decided to conduct an annual 'health check' of the Code. After receiving submissions from - among others - the industry, members of the public and the Commission itself, the committee released its first annual revision of the Code to take effect on 1 June 2004.

Throughout, the wording of the Code was comprehensively tightened to make it shorter, crisper and ultimately more accessible. At the same time its provisions were broadened in important areas.

The preamble was expanded to re-emphasise that editors and publishers have the ultimate duty of care to implement the Code; to stress that its rules apply to all editorial contributors, including non-journalists; to make clear that it covers online versions of publications as well as printed copies; and to insist that publications criticised in adverse adjudications include a headline reference to the PCC. The preamble now read:

All members of the press have a duty to maintain the highest professional standards. This Code sets the benchmark for those ethical standards, protecting both the rights of the individual and the public's right to know. It is the cornerstone of the system of self-regulation to which the industry has made a binding commitment.

It is essential that an agreed code be honoured not only to the letter but in the full spirit. It should not be interpreted so narrowly as to compromise its commitment to respect the rights of the individual, nor so broadly that it constitutes an unnecessary interference with freedom of expression or prevents publication in the public interest.

It is the responsibility of editors and publishers to implement the Code and they should take care to ensure it is observed rigorously by all editorial staff and external contributors, including non-journalists, in printed and online versions of publications.

Editors should co-operate swiftly with the PCC in the resolution of complaints. Any publication judged to have breached the Code must print the adjudication in full and with due prominence, including headline reference to the PCC.

Perhaps the most notable amendment to the Code itself reflected the need for it to respond to changes in technology. Clause 3 (Privacy) was amended to state that 'everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private... correspondence, including digital communications'. The Clause was further tightened to prevent all photography of people in private places, irrespective of whether a long-lens had been used.

Clause 8 (Listening Devices) of the previous Code was subsumed into the previous Clause 11 (Misrepresentation) and its provisions expanded to prevent the interception of 'private or mobile telephone calls, messages or email's. The Clause - which became Clause 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge) - read:

10. * Clandestine devices and subterfuge?i) The press must not seek to obtain or publish material acquired by using hidden cameras or clandestine listening devices; or by intercepting private or mobile telephone calls, messages or emails; or by the unauthorised removal of documents or photographs. ?ii) Engaging in misrepresentation or subterfuge, can generally be justified only in the public interest and then only when the material cannot be obtained by other means.

Other Clauses were tightened in order to allow them better to respond to the particular ethical issues at their heart. Clause 9 (Reporting of Crime) now made specific the central point that relatives or friends of persons convicted or accused of crime should not generally be identified, 'unless they are genuinely relevant to the story'. Clause 16 (Payment to criminals) was amended to make clear that payment was unacceptable to those convicted or accused of crime for material that seeks 'to exploit a particular crime or to glorify or glamorise crime in general'.

Clause 16 was further changed in order to respond to an issue raised by a complaint during 2003, regarding the fact that a newspaper had paid a convicted criminal for an interview during which it had hoped to elicit information as to the previously-unknown whereabouts of the body of a victim of a notorious murder. The newspaper's public interest argument did not succeed as the interview had not revealed such information, but was published in any case. However, given that the previous Code gave no specific guidance regarding payment made in the belief that the public interest would be served, the Commission did not censure the newspaper on this occasion. A new sub-section to Clause 16 was incorporated to clarify the position for the future:

ii) Editors invoking the public interest to justify payment or offers would need to demonstrate that there was good reason to believe the public interest would be served. If, despite payment, no public interest emerged, then the material should not be published.

In general, as the provisions of the Clauses were made more specific, the Code was intended to become more user-friendly both for complainants and editors. So, Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock) now stated that the requirement for sensitive reporting should not restrict a newspaper's right to report 'legal proceedings, such as inquests'. Clause 12 (Discrimination) now emphasised that pejorative, prejudicial or irrelevant reference to 'an individual's race, colour, religion, sex, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability' was unacceptable.

Such changes ensured that both the rights of a complainant and the responsibility of a newspaper were now more apparent.
May 2005 Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Code was expanded to cover discriminatory press reporting of transgender people. While the Commission had always considered that the Discrimination clause, in its previous form, gave protection to trans individuals, it was accepted that - following the Gender Recognition Act of 2004 - more specific cover should be given.

It was decided that the word 'gender' would replace 'sex' in sub-clause 12i, thus widening its scope to include transgender individuals. It now read:

12i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.

No change was made to the accompanying sub-clause 12ii, which covers publication of discriminatory details that aren't relevant to a story, because trans individuals would be covered under the existing rules.
August 2006 After hearing evidence of the dangers of imitative suicide, the Code committee expanded Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock) to cover the reporting of suicide. The new sub-clause reads:

*ii) When reporting suicide, care should be taken to avoid excessive detail about the method used.
August 2007 Four changes were introduced following the annual Code review. Two of them were in the preamble. The first amend-ment was designed to ensure that the preamble and the public interest exceptions are seen as central to the Code. The preamble's first paragraph was revised to state:

All members of the press have a duty to maintain the highest professional standards. The Code, which includes this preamble and the public interest exceptions below, sets the benchmark for those ethical standards, protecting both the rights of the individual and the public's right to know.

The second preamble change followed guidance from the Press Standards Board of Finance Ltd (PressBoF), which extended the Code's remit to cover the use of audio-visual and user-generated material in online publications.

This specifically excluded user-generated and non-edited material from the Code's remit in online publications. It defined editorial material as that for which the editor of the newspaper or magazine is responsible and could reasonably have been expected both to exercise control over and to apply the terms of the Code.

To reflect that, the Editors' Committee revised the preamble's third paragraph to make clear that the Code applies only to editorial material. It now stated:

It is the responsibility of editors and publishers to apply the Code to editorial material in both printed and online versions of publications. They should take care to ensure it is observed rigorously by all editorial staff and external contributors, including non-journalists.

At the same time, Clause 10 was changed in response to concerns about intrusions into privacy raised by the Information Commissioner - related to illegal trading in confidential information - and by the case where a journalist was jailed for bugging phones of the Royal household.

While in no doubt that the Code already covered such cases, the Editors' Committee believed this should be explicit. The first amendment was to prevent, unless in the public interest, the accessing of digitally-held private information without consent. The second specified that engaging in misrepresentation or subterfuge via agents or intermediaries could only be justified in the public interest.
March 2008 Paul Dacre, Editor of the Daily Mail and Editor-in-chief of Associated Newspapers, was named as the new incoming Chairman of the Code Committee, following the resignation of Les Hinton, who had left News International to become Chief Executive of Dow Jones in New York.
October 2009 Three amendments were introduced that were intended to strengthen and clarify the Code, for the benefit of both complainants and the press, by incorporating elements which largely reflected embedded PCC jurisprudence or existing industry best practice. They were:
  • Privacy - Clause 3 was amended to make clear that the PCC would take into account relevant previous disclosures made by the complainant.
  • Harassment - Clause 4 was changed to require journalists in situations where harassment could become an issue to identify themselves, and those they represent, if requested to do so.
  • The Public Interest exceptions were altered to cover journalistic activity - such as investigative reporting - where editors could demonstrate a reasonable belief that they were acting in the public interest at the time, even if no public interest had actually emerged.
January 2011 New rules introduced in January 2011 required that, in complaints involving the Commission, prominence of corrections should be agreed with the PCC in advance. This codified what had increasingly been standard practice, where editors and the secretariat informally agreed on positioning in order to avoid secondary complaints.
January 2012 Two rules aimed at promoting compliance were introduced in January 2011. The Preamble was amended to require that prominence of critical adjudications should be agreed with the PCC Director. The Public Interest panel was changed to require editors who claim that a breach of the Code was in the public interest to show not just that they had good reason to believe the public interest would be served, but how and with whom that was established at the time.
December 2012 Following the report of the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practice and ethics of the press, the Code Committee agreed to a radical restructuring to increase lay representation. It was agreed that the chairman and director of the regulatory body, who had traditionally attended as fully participating observers, should be made full members. The number of editors on the committee would be reduced by three, who would be replaced by three independent lay members. The ratio would then be 10 editors to five lay members.
September 2014 The Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) was launched as the new regulatory body, with Sir Alan Moses, a former Appeal Court judge, as its first Chairman, selected by an independent appointments panel. He and the Chief Executive of IPSO, Matt Tee, automatically became ex officio members of the Code Committee, along with three other independently appointed lay members.
February 2015 The three new lay members were appointed by an independent selection panel. They were: Christine Elliott, Chief Executive for Turnaround; David, Jessel, a former TV investigative journalist; and Dr Kate Stone, founder of Novalia, a company specialising in digital technology.

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