Paul Dacre praises Government for dropping jail threat to journalists

Chairman of the Editor’s Code of Practice Committee Paul Dacre has praised the government for scrapping proposals to jail journalists and others who breach the data protection act.

Daily Mail editor-in-chief Paul Dacre has issued his first annual report as chairman of the committee, which is responsible for making amendments to the Code of Practice which forms the basis for decisions made by the Press Complaints Commission.

Dacre said: ‘The threat of custodial sentences under the Data Protection Act was particularly worrying because of the effect it would have had on press freedom by inhibiting investigative reporting.

‘Such sentences would also have meant that Britain would have been one of the only countries in the civilised world to jail journalists trying to do their job. To its credit, the government was persuaded to hold back and allow the industry and self regulation to demonstrate what it could do to prevent breaches.”

Dacre pointed out that the Code was amended in 2007 in the wake of the jailing of News of the World royals editor Clive Goodman for bugging the phones of aides of members of the Royal Family.

Dacre said: ‘The Code was amended in 2007 to make clear that, unless in the public interest, the rules on use of clandestine devices and subterfuge also banned hacking into computers to obtain confidential information. And it made clear that these rules applied to information supplied not only by journalists, but by informants or agents such as private detectives.”

However he added: ‘The industry itself must now show to the Ministry of Justice, which is overseeing the relevant legislation, that it is treating the matter extremely seriously. This means educating its staff in the application of the Data Protection Act and the Code rules, and demonstrating publicly the various mechanisms it has introduced collectively and individually in-house to ensure compliance.”

Regarding media coverage of a series of suicides in and around Bridgend in South Wales, Dacre said: ‘ While there was criticism in some quarters, the evidence so far is that the Code, whose rules covering suicide reporting were (following consultations with the Samaritans) amended in 2006, performed well and that many of the complaints were directed at foreign news organisations and broadcasters.”

On another front, we need to be similarly vigilant over the public’s concerns about the activities of the paparazzi. The long-delayed inquest on Diana Princess of Wales in bringing the subject to the fore again was also a reminder of how much the industry has changed in the decade since her death. We once again examined the strictures introduced then to prevent harassment, and remain of the belief that they are among the toughest in the world. The ‘desist’ rules are now followed not only by print journalists but also by broadcasters which must be judged a success for the PCC. It should be stressed, however, that there is no room for complacency. We have to ensure that these rules are followed as the Code requires. There can be no let-up and there is still work to do.

The great strength of press self regulation is that it can react swiftly to changes in circumstances. Amendments can be introduced and be effective within months. The 2007 rules on audio-visual content, for example, have rapidly introduced a new, and pioneering regulatory dimension to the digital age.”

The Code of Practice committee comprises

  • :
  • :Paul Dacre, Daily Mail
  • Neil Benson, Trinity Mirror Regional Newspapers
  • Adrian Faber, Express and Star, Wolverhampton
  • Mike Gilson, The Scotsman, Edinburgh
  • Jonathan Grun, Press Association
  • Douglas Melloy, Rotherham and South Yorkshire Advertiser
  • Ian Murray, Southern Evening Echo
  • David Pollington, The Sunday Post
  • Alan Rusbridger, The Guardian
  • June Smith-Sheppard, Pick Me Up magazine
  • Neil Wallis, News of the World
  • Harriet Wilson, Conde-Nast Magazines
  • John Witherow, Sunday Times

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