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| 2 minutes read

ICO Journalism Code of Practice: Third Time Lucky?

Rejoice! Following its second consultation (where it was entirely rewritten), the UK's Information Commissioner's Office ("ICO") has published yet another draft of the journalism code of practice. It appears to have been entirely rewritten (AGAIN!) but don't get too excited or alarmed, the content and approach may be new and more succinct, but the principles and guidance are not radically different. As previously, this new draft of the code will be of relevance not only to traditional journalists but also to wider digital and artistic content providers.

What are the key changes?

  • Firstly, the length - It is now down to a much more manageable 40 pages. That's less than half the length of v1.
  • Lawful basis - The draft acknowledges the issues associated with consent in journalism and explains in more detail than previously that the legitimate interests lawful basis is often the most straightforward to use. It explicitly acknowledges the issues with withdrawal of consent in journalism, but definitely could have gone further and given examples, a point that we had raised with the ICO during the process. Many struggle with the differences between informed consent in broadcast codes versus consent under GDPR for example, and it is a shame that this hasn't been clarified.
  • Must? Could? Should? - The previous version of the code distinguished between legal obligations, best practice and additional ways to comply, leaving the previous draft feeling somewhat woolly and subject to interpretation. The 'could's' have been done away with leaving must do's (legal requirement) and should do's (best practice) behind. Some may have preferred there not to have been this distinction at all, but at least this means the code isn't too prescriptive.
  • Public interest - It goes a bit further in stating that there may be a public interest in a range of topics, not just hard hitting journalism. For example, lifestyle, arts, sports, and entertainment, showbusiness news and celebrity coverage may all potentially be relevant to the public interest. This is more reflective of reality and a bit more pragmatic.
  • Accountability - We mentioned in our review of the last draft that the accountability obligations had been improved. Further work has been done in this version to recognise the discretion organisations have in demonstrating compliance. This nod to the fact that there is no 'one size fits all' approach is reassuring but it still doesn't drill down into the details, simply stating "when considering how you would demonstrate that you made a reasonable decision, you should decide what is appropriate depending on the circumstances." Examples are unfortunately missing.
  • Structure - Each section has been totally re-written in a consistent manner throughout, answering two fundamental questions - "What does the legislation say?" and "How do we comply?". This makes it a lot easier to work out: (a) what you have to do; and (b) how you do it. Full marks for this.
  • Applying the exemption - The most important details such as how to apply the journalistic exemption under GDPR, are now set out towards the end of the code but have been reduced as well which is a surprise since this is the primary question those using the code look to it for guidance on. Helpful resources, like links to the IPSO Editors' Code of Practice and the Ofcom Broadcasting Code have been removed which the ICO previously stated journalists must consider if relevant. It is disappointing that clarity and practical guidance is missing here.

What next?

The code was submitted to the Department of Science, Innovation and Technology on 6 July and now needs to be laid before Parliament by the Secretary of State. TBC when that will be. After that, a 40 day review period will commence in both Houses of Parliament. If no objections, the ICO can issue the code and it will come in to force three weeks later. It would be surprising however if this third version is rejected.


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