Editors toughen up code to outlaw phone text grabs

Overhauled: The Editors’ Code has now been comprehensively revised

 

 

 

 

 

The interception of text messages by journalists has been outlawed in the first major review of the Editors’ Code of Practice for six years.

Last month’s News of the World exposé about footballer David Beckham’s affair with Rebecca Loos centred on the publication of text messages between the pair.

The NoW did not reveal how it obtained the texts in that case, but previously there has been speculation that journalists have used contacts at telephone companies to obtain text message transcripts.

A new section states that the interception of private digital communications is outlawed unless a public interest case can be proven.

The new-look code, as already revealed in Press Gazette, failed to take up calls from the NUJ for a “conscience clause” to protect journalists in case editors or proprietors force them to breach the code.

Instead, a new introduction states: “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.”

The Code of Practice provides the rules by which the Press Complaints Commission polices the newspaper industry and is drawn up by a committee of editors.

Another new rule toughens the restrictions on payments to criminals by stopping newspapers from paying them for material that “exploits, glorifies or glamorises crime”.

Society of Editors executive director Bob Satchwell said: “The most important area for me is that it re-emphasises the point that the Code should be applied to the spirit as well as the letter of the law.

“What was the pre-amble of the code is now part of it and it’s reemphasising the responsibility of all editors to make sure that other contributors, as well as their staff, will stick to the code – even letter writers to the newspapers.”

Code committee secretary Ian Beales said the new section on digital communications was not included as a result of any particular newspaper articles.

He said: “There was just a feeling that it was a natural progression.

“The Code is shorter now than it was and I think it’s a bit clearer – it should be more user-friendly from the point of view of complainants and the industry.”

The Code Committee has been working on the changes since the start of the year.

The 13 members are mostly regional or national newspaper editors and include Mike Gilson from The News in Portsmouth, Alan Rusbridger from The Guardian and Peter Wright from The Mail on Sunday.

The Code was last comprehensively revised following the death of Princess Diana in 1997 and public concern that she had been hounded by paparazzi.

Next week the Society of Editors will begin mailing out 30,000 walletsized copies of the new code to journalists around the country. The code can also be viewed at www.pcc.org.uk.

By Dominic Ponsford

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