Impress publishes draft 10-clause standards code

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Impress, rival press regulator to IPSO, has unveiled the first draft of its 10-clause standards code for members.

It comes ahead of the public hearing on Tuesday next week at which the Press Recognition Panel will consider Impress’s application for recognition as a regulator under the Royal Charter on the Press.

Impress applied to the Panel for recognition under the Charter in January this year – at which time it had “adopted” the Editors’ Code of Practice which is overseen by Ipso, the Independent Press Standards organisation.

It was not until May that Impress announced it was launching a consultation on its own Code of Standards.

Impress chief executive Jonathan Heawood said: “We have, for the first time in the UK and in line with what Lord Justice Leveson recommended, held a thorough and wide-ranging consultation into a new standards code.

“We have had significant input from the public and from journalists.

“The code is intended to be a practical working tool that enables journalists, editors and publishers to do their jobs. It should be easily understood by the public and enforceable through regulation. The code has been designed for the era of digital publication, with full respect for transparency and public interest.”

Impress said the draft code was designed with the challenges of digital publication in mind, and would apply to publications it regulated regardless of medium or platform.

Impress said that in response to growing concerns among journalists and audiences about the impact of paid-for content on editorial freedom, clause 10 of the draft code asked publishers to make absolutely clear where content has been paid for financially or through a reciprocal arrangement and was controlled by a third party, and to take all reasonable steps to declare significant conflicts of interest.

The draft code unveiled runs to a total of 10 clauses – in comparison to the 15 in the Editors’ Code of Practice – and starts with a statement on the public interest considerations which publishers may take into account when deciding whether newsgathering activities may be justified despite restrictions in the main code, and a requirement for publishers to be able to demonstrate when and how they decided that whatever they were planning would be covered by the public interest requirement.

Clause 1 of the draft code covers accuracy and the need to correct inaccuracies as soon as possible, while clause 2 requires publishers to take all reasonable steps to identify and credit the originator of any third party content.

Clause 3, on children, says publishers “must only interview, photograph or otherwise record the words or actions of a child under the age of 16 years with the assent of the child or a responsible adult and where this is not detrimental to the safety and wellbeing of the child”.

It also says publishers “must not identify a child under the age of 16 years without the assent of the child or a responsible adult, unless this is relevant to the story and not detrimental to the safety and wellbeing of the child”, and includes a requirement for publishers to give “reasonable consideration” to the request of a person who was previously identified as a child under the age of 16 years in a news story and who now wishes their identity to be concealed.

These requirements appear to be weaker than those imposed by the Editors’ Code of Practice, clause 6 of which says youngsters under the age of 16 “must not be interviewed or photographed on issues involving their own or another child’s welfare unless a custodial parent or similarly responsible adult consents”.

In addition, the Editors’ Code of Practice says children must be free to complete their time at school without unnecessary intrusion, and bans photographs or approaches at schools without the consent of the school authorities.

Clause 4 of the Impress draft code covers discrimination on the grounds of age, disability, gender reassignment or identity, marital or civil partnership status, pregnancy, race, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation “or another characteristic which makes that person vulnerable to discrimination”, and requires that mentions of such issues should be made only when genuinely relevant to the story.

Clause 5, on harassment, says publishers “must ensure that journalists do not engage in intimidation”, but says that its bans on deception or harassment, identification, and contact or following an individual are subject to the public interest justifications.

Clause 6, on justice, places a requirement on publishers to protect the identity of victims of sexual assault – although victims and alleged victims of sexual offences are already automatically given anonymity by law.

But it also says publishers should protect the identity of “children under 18 years of age who are or have been involved in criminal proceedings” – which appears to mean that even if a judge were to agree that the media could name a 17-year-old who had been convicted or murder, publishers signed up to Impress would be bound by its draft code not to identify him or her.

The same would also seem to apply to identifying a child or teenager under 18 who was, for example, the victim of an attack, or was injured in an accident caused by a speeding drink-driver.

Clause 6 of the draft Code places a complete ban on paying public officials for information “except as permitted by law”.

This would appear to preclude any publisher registered with Impress from paying for any information – such as the material which led to the Daily Telegraph’s exposure of the scandal over MPs’ expenses – as the clause is not stated to be subject to the public interest consideration.

Clause 7 of the draft code, on privacy, is stated to be subject to public interest considerations.

Clause 8 says publishers “must take care to protect sources where confidentiality has been agreed to and not waived by the source” and also that they “must ensure that journalists do not fabricate sources”.

Clause 9 bans the use of excessive detail and speculation on the motives in reporting on suicide or self-harm.

Finally, clause 10, on transparency, requires publishers to “make absolutely clear where content has been paid for financially or through a reciprocal arrangement and is controlled by a third party”, as well as to take “all reasonable steps to declare significant conflicts of interest”.

The draft code is available on the Impress website.

At present Impress’s website lists a total of 42 publications – the bulk of which are small or hyperlocal online publishers – which it regulates, or which have applied to the regulator or are currently undergoing assessments.

The majority of the national, regional and local press are signed up to Ipso, the Independent Press Standards Organisation.

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