ICO publishes journalism code of practice

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) published its third draft journalism code of practice (the Code) on 6 July 2023.

The Code has been produced in accordance with a requirement of the Data Protection Act 2018 and provides practical guidance on how organisations can comply with data protection law when using personal information for journalistic purposes. The Code also provides guidance for the public on how to complain about the use of their personal data by media organisations.

To finalise the Code, the ICO consulted with media organisations, industry representatives and the public on draft versions.

Key Takeaways

By publishing the Code, the ICO encourages responsible and ethical journalism and aims to balance freedom of expression and the protection of personal data.

Secure, transparent and accurate reporting

The Code provides guidance on the importance of secure, transparent and accurate reporting that is in line with good practice. Practical recommendations for ensuring accuracy include:

  • Policies which set out a clear process for checking facts.
  • An accuracy checklist or flowchart to support journalists in their work.
  • Systems to record inaccuracies and monitor recurring themes.

Legal basis for processing

The Code addresses the issues with consent in journalism and outlines that the lawful basis of legitimate interests is often the most straightforward to use in this context.

Accountability 

The Code incorporates the updated legal concept of accountability and places an importance on fostering an internal compliance culture with "strong leadership" and a "positive tone from the top".

The journalistic exemption

The Code advises on the journalism exemption and how it should be applied in practice, which can be relied upon if there is a reasonable belief that a specific part of data protection law should be set aside because complying with it would disproportionately restricts a journalist in their activity.

The Information Commissioner, John Edwards, said:

“A free media is at the heart of any healthy democracy – keeping us informed, encouraging debate and opinion, and entertaining us. It is a crucial part of the fundamental right to freedom of expression and information.”

“Our code strikes the right balance between supporting journalists’ work and protecting people’s personal information by providing clear and practical guidance on how to comply with data protection law.”

Statutory Process

The Code has been submitted to the Secretary of State at the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, who will lay the Code before Parliament for approval. If there are no objections, the Code will come into force 21 days later.

Our View

The publication of this draft Code demonstrates that the ICO is clearly committed to ensuring that journalism progresses in a way that balances both the public’s right to information and individuals’ right to privacy.

The Code will serve as a useful reminder for media organisations to act with accountability and credibility when using personal data and to ensure that they respect the rights of the individuals that they report on.

The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the date of publication and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.

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