The Editors' Code of Practice Committee has today published an amended Code of Practice, which will take effect from 1 January 2016 and be enforced by the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO). The Committee largely comprises newspaper editors (even one of its three "lay" members is a former journalist) and is chaired by the long-serving editor of the Daily Mail, Paul Dacre.
No surprise, then, that there is little in the new version which is likely to cause journalists any sleepless nights. Indeed, it should be a cause of considerable comfort to them.
Oddly, the press release issued by the Committee seeks to position the revisions to the Code as reflecting the recommendations made by Lord Justice Leveson following his enquiry into journalistic malpractice, notwithstanding that IPSO was established in defiance of, rather than in compliance with, those very recommendations.
Most of the changes are cosmetic. The main one is that the editors have generously given themselves even more latitude to invoke a "public interest" exemption under the Code, by introducing four new categories of public interest (in addition to the current three) which entitle them to breach certain provisions of the Code, including those covering privacy, harassment, children, reporting of crime, subterfuge and use of "clandestine devices".
The new public interest exemptions, i.e. where a publication would have a defence even if it had breached those provisions, are when it is:
- disclosing a person [sic] or organisation's failure or likely failure to comply with any obligation to which they [sic] are subject
- disclosing a miscarriage of justice
- raising or contributing to a matter of public debate, including serious cases of impropriety, unethical conduct or
- incompetence concerning the public
- disclosing concealment, or likely concealment, of any of the above.
Rather puzzlingly, the Editors' Committee describes this wide ranging extension to the public interest exemptions as being "in line with" the Defamation Act and the Data Protection Act. In fact, neither of those statutes includes any definition of public interest.