Long-awaited post-Leveson review of the Editors' Code is a missed opportunity

Paul Dacre’s Editors’ Code Committee appears to have taken the view that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it with its long-awaited post-Leveson review.

This is perhaps fair enough. The Code itself emerged pretty much unscathed from the Leveson process. And it is devilishly tricky to balance the rights of complainants with the right to freedom of expression.

But one concern I would highlight with the revised code is the removal of the first sentence.

The old document said: “All members of the press have a duty to maintain the highest professional standards.”

This has now gone. Concievably this could have allowed a complaint to be brought over something which wasn’t explicitly covered by the code but was a clear breach of editorial standards, such as failings highlighted by Peter Oborne over the Telegraph’s coverage of the HSBC scandal earlier this year.

The new code states: “The Code – including this preamble and the public interest exceptions below – sets the framework for the highest professional standards that members of the press subscribing to the Independent Press Standards Organisation have undertaken to maintain.”

The idea appears to be to stop the Editors’ Code being used by other regulators, or by non-regulated newspapers – which I guess is in there as a stick to persuade the FT, Independent and Guardian to sign up to IPSO.

But moving the “highest professional standards” from being a requirement of all journalists, to a description of the code document, weakens it in my view.

The other changes are cosmetic. Headlines were of course already covered by the old code, as was reporting of suicide. The old code already banned needless reference to a person being transgender.

Given the huge concern over publishers handing over details of public sector sources to the police, the code might have provided greater clarity over the protection of sources.

And given the dozens of arrests for journalists over payments to public officials in the last three years, it might also have looked at what is the right approach to take when paying for stories.

The review does feel like something of a missed opportunity, if not to change the code, then at least to engage with its detractors.

The consultation took place three years ago and received more than 200 responses. The publication of the revised code had to await the formation of IPSO and appointment of new lay members to the code comittee

None of the responders to that consultation have been engaged with (publicly or privately) to my knowledge. There has been no public discussion of the issues raised and no publication of the responses.

The approach lacks transparency and that perception does not help the industry with the vital job of rebuilding public trust.

Hopefully the next consultation on changing the code, to take place next year, will involve more of a genuine public debate.

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