No conscience clause in revised Editors' Code

Code: under review by committee

No “conscience clause” to protect journalists who refuse to write stories for moral reasons will be included in the revised Editors’ Code of Practice.

It is understood the whole idea of a conscience clause has been ruled out by a committee of editors looking at revisions to the code, which underpins the work of the Press Complaints Commission.

Code revisions are expected to be made public in six weeks’ time, but Press Gazette understands the review committee has decided it should be up to editors to be the conscience of newspapers and magazines, not individual journalists.

The idea of a conscience clause to protect journalists who feel under pressure to slant and twist stories has long been favoured by the NUJ.

The issue came to the fore again in the row between the NUJ chapel and management at Express Newspapers in January, when journalists claimed they were being pressured to write anti-gypsy articles.

The chapel wrote to the PCC “reminding it of the need to protect journalists who are unwilling to write racist articles which are contrary to the NUJ’s code of conduct”.

Responding to the letter, PCC director Tim Toulmin said the chapel’s comments related to matters which were currently outside the commission’s jurisdiction.

But Toulmin said he had passed the letter to the Editors’ Code committee and told the chapel it would be considered during the review of the code.

Express Newspapers Father of Chapel Ray King said: “It’s important that reporters are able to make judgements about their sources and the stories they do. From experience it would seem that working journalists need the protection of a conscience clause.”

Bob Satchwell, executive director of the Society of Editors, told Press Gazette: “Editors and news editors are as much subject to the Code of Practice as any journalists, so there should not be a problem and, therefore, no need for a conscience clause.”

Manchester Evening News editor Paul Horrocks said he thought a conscience clause would be “dangerous territory”, adding: “It’s the province of editors to take those sorts of decisions.”

By Jon Slattery and Dominic Ponsford

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