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THE EVOLVING CODE OF PRACTICE

The Code of Practice is written by a committee of editors and ratified by the Press Complaints Commission. It is not a legal document and, as such, it can swiftly be amended to take account if necessary of parliamentary comment, suggestions from the PCC, editors and members of the public, and changes in technology.

There have been nearly 30 such changes since the original Code was published in 1991.

DATE CHANGE



January 1991
A 16 Clause Code of Practice was established covering areas such as accuracy, privacy and discrimination under a committee chaired by Mrs Patsy Chapman (then editor of the News of the World).

May 1992
The following paragraph was inserted in the preamble relating to the obligation of editors 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
Following concerns about the manner in which some material was being obtained by journalists a new clause was added which became Clause (5) Listening Devices. The Clause 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 again altered to enshrine in the Code 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.

October 1993
The following note defining private property was included at the foot of 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 taking of long lens photographs.

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 amended 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 9 (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
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 by this time 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.


One of the chief concerns at the time of Princess Diana’s death was about the role of the paparazzi and the manner in which some photographs were sought. To address this concern, the provisions 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 number 6 in the revised Code extended the protection of the Code to children while they are at school. Previously it had referred only to the under 16s. 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. The following sentence was therefore added:

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


Throughout the entire Code, the phrase ‘should not’ was replaced by ‘must not’. In addition, the section on the public interest which details 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 section 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
Following discussions with the government about the implentation 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, once again mirroring the 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 reads as follows:

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 accordance with a proposal made by Sir Christopher Meyer, as part of his programme of 'permanent evolution' for the PCC, it was decided that the Code Committee should conduct an annual 'audit' or 'health check' of the Code. Following submissions made during the first part of 2004 by - amongst others - the industry, members of the public and the Commission itself, the Code Committee released its first annual revision of the Code to take effect on 1st June 2004.

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

The preamble to the Code was expanded in order 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 which are criticised in adverse adjudications include a reference to the PCC in the headline. The preamble now read as follows:

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 emails'. 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
Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Code was expanded to cover the way in which suicide is reported. The new sub-clause reads:

*ii) When reporting suicide, care should be taken to avoid excessive detail about the method used.

August 2007 The preamble’s first paragraph has been 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…”
Following guidance on online publications issued earlier this year by the Press Standards Board of Finance Ltd (PressBoF), which specifically excluded user-generated and non-edited material from the Code’s remit in online publications. The preamble’s third paragraph was revised to make clear that the Code applies only to editorial material. It will now say:

“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.

Clause 10 is revised to state:

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 unauthorized removal of documents, or photographs; or by accessing digitally-held private information without consent.
ii). Engaging in misrepresentation or subterfuge, including by agents or intermediaries, can generally be justified only in the public interest, and then only when the material cannot be obtained by other means.

October 2009

Clause 3 (Privacy) was amended to make clear that the PCC will take into account relevant previous disclosures made by the complainant:

i) Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence, including digital communications.

ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent. Account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information.

iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals in private places without their consent.

Clause 4 (Harassment) was revised to require journalists in situations where harassment could become an issue to identify themselves if requested to do so:

i) Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit.

ii) They must not persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing individuals once asked to desist; nor remain on their property when asked to leave and must not follow them. If requested, they must identify themselves and whom they represent.

iii) Editors must ensure these principles are observed by those working for them and take care not to use non-compliant material from other sources.

The public interest section has been amended to make clear that, when the public interest is invoked, editors will be required to demonstrate fully that they reasonably believed that publication, or journalistic activity undertaken with a view to publication, would be in the public interest:

THE PUBLIC INTEREST

There may be exceptions to the clauses marked* where they can be demonstrated to be in the public interest

1. The public interest includes, but is not confined to:

i) Detecting or exposing crime or serious impropriety.

ii) Protecting public health and safety.

iii) Preventing the public from being misled by an action or statement of an individual or organisation.

2. There is a public interest in freedom of expression itself.

3. Whenever the public interest is invoked, the PCC will require editors to demonstrate fully that they reasonably believed that publication, or journalistic activity undertaken with a view to publication, would be in the public interest.

4. The PCC will consider the extent to which material is already in the public domain, or will become so.

5. In cases involving children under 16, editors must demonstrate an exceptional public interest to over-ride the normally paramount interest of the child.

January 2011 Clause 1 (Accuracy) part ii is amended to read as follows (new section in bold):

A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and - where appropriate - an apology published. In cases involving the Commission, prominence should be agreed with the PCC in advance.

January 2012

The Code's preamble is amended to add the requirement of editors who breach the Code to publish the PCC's critical adjudication in full and with due prominence agreed with the PCC's Director.

The Public Interest rules are amended so they now require editors who claim a breach of the Code was in the public interest to show not only that they had good reason to believe the public interest would be served, but how and with whom that was established at the time.

 
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