Three years after post-Leveson consultation Paul Dacre's committee makes 'cosmetic' changes to Editors' Code

The Editors' Code of Practice Committee has finally completed its post-Leveson review and has made only "cosmetic" changes to its rules.

The revised code has been published three years after a public consultation was held on changing the document.

According to the Editors' Code committee, some 200 responses to the consultation were reviewed and consideration was also given to the 2,000-page Leveson report from 2012.

The changes to the code are as follows:

For the first time, specific reference is made to headlines not supported by the text of the article beneath.

Analysis: This emphasises something which was already the case.

The reporting of suicide becomes the subject of a stand-alone clause, reflecting concerns about the publication of excessive detail about methods of suicide.

Analysis: This was already covered in the old code, but as a sub-section to an existing clause.

Gender identity is added to the list of categories covered by the discrimination clause, which protects individuals from prejudicial and pejorative reporting.

Analysis: Gender was already covered in the old code, this change appears to emphasise that it also covers transgender people.

The duty of editors to maintain procedures to resolve complaints swiftly, and to co-operate with the Independent Press Standards Organisation, becomes enshrined in the Code’s preamble.

Analysis: This updates the old preamble which said: "Editors should co-operate swiftly with the Press Complaints Commission in the resolution of complaints."

However the preamble appears to also have been watered down. It no longer states: "All members of the press have a duty to maintain the highest professional standards."

It instead says: "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 Code’s definition of the public interest, and the circumstances in which editors can invoke it, has been updated and expanded in line with the Defamation Act, Data Protection Act and Crown Prosecution Service guidance.

Analysis: In practice this means the following clauses have been added to the definition of the public interest:

iv. Disclosing a person or organisation’s failure or likely failure to comply with any obligation to which they are subject.
v. Disclosing a miscarriage of justice.
vi. Raising or contributing to a matter of public debate, including serious cases of impropriety, unethical conduct or incompetence concerning the public.
vii. Disclosing concealment, or likely concealment, of any of the above.

Dr Evan Harris of campaign group Hacked Off said: "These changes are not merely cosmetic, they water down the code in a number of important areas.

"Not only was there no consultation with the public or the profession over the code, but calls for real improvements – such as in regard to suicide reporting, ending buried corrections, and protecting minorities from abuse – have been ignored."

The code committeee is mainly comprised of serving editors and is led by Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre (pictured).

Since the Leveson Inquiry three lay members, not connected with the journalism industry, have also joined the panel as have the chairman and chief executive of the Independent Press Standards Organisation.

Dacre said: "I am very grateful to our new lay members – and Sir Alan Moses and Matt Tee – for the depth of experience they have brought to our discussions. I am convinced these changes strengthen the Code and will ensure it remains the universally accepted standard for journalistic practice in the post-Leveson era."

Moses said: ‘It is important to acknowledge publicly and to welcome the significant degree of co-operation and accord which all those at the Editors’ Code Committee have achieved. As IPSO gains authority through experience, we look forward to continuing and improving our contribution to the work of the Committee in the next round of discussion and consultation in 2016."

Press Gazette was among the bodies to make a submission to the code committee. None of the submissions have been published and the committee has provide no public analysis, comment or feedback on the nature of the submissions.

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