IPSO rings the changes for 2016

11 January 2016

Author: Fergal McGoldrick
Practice Area: Media and Defamation

The Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), the independent regulator of the press and magazine industry in the United Kingdom, experienced a rather active end to 2015, announcing changes to the Editors’ Code of Practice, together with requiring two national newspapers to publish details of adjudications on their respective front pages.

The Editors’ Code of Practice sets out the rules that the voluntarily subscribing newspaper and magazine industry members have pledged to accept, and is the basic code of conduct under which the vast majority of UK publications, and their journalists, operate. In early December IPSO announced that a revised Code would come into effect from January 1st 2016, representing the Code’s first overhaul in the post Leveson era.

Notable changes include:

·  A re-designed preamble requiring Editors to maintain in-house procedures for the swift resolution of complaints.

·  An explanation of the freedom of expression to be afforded to publications which can include “to inform, to be partisan, to challenge, to shock, be satirical and to entertain”

·  The removal, from both the preamble and Clause 1, of references to the prominence of adverse adjudications against publications being “agreed” between the publisher and the Regulator; instead the phrase “as required by IPSO/the regulator” is used throughout the Code.

·  In Clause 1 (Accuracy), specific reference to headlines which are not supported by the text of an article, whilst the right of the press to “editorialise and campaign” is also recognised.

·  A new standalone provision on the reporting of suicide is introduced: Clause 5 now reads: “When reporting suicide, to prevent simulative acts care should be taken to avoid excessive detail of the method used, while taking into account the media’s right to report legal proceedings.

·  Gender identity is added to the list of categories falling within Clause 12 (Discrimination)

·  The explanation of “The Public Interest” is significantly expanded, and now additionally includes:

o Detecting or exposing the threat of crime

o Disclosing a person/organisation’s failure or likely failure to comply with any obligation to which they are subject

o Disclosing a miscarriage of justice

o Raising or contributing to a matter of public debate, including serious cases of impropriety, unethical conduct or incompetence concerning the public

o Disclosing the concealment or likely concealment of any of the areas defined as falling within the public interest

·  If a publication seeks to rely on the public interest, IPSO may require editors to show that publication and journalistic activity in advance of same would both serve and be proportionate to the public interest, and explain how they reached that decision at the time.

It seems likely that the press will welcome both the expansion of the public interest and the expanded understanding of the freedom of expression afforded to publications, protecting the ability of the press to pursue matters in the public interest and its ability to be partisan and take positions on any issue a publication chooses to report on.

The inclusion within Clause 1 of specific reference to the accuracy of “headlines not supported by the text “presents something of a different challenge. Normally, a serious inaccuracy of some description forms the basis for a complaint in defamation, and the Court remains committed to the principle established in Charleston & Smith v News Group Newspapers Ltd where it held that an article, including the text, headlines and any pictures must be read and understood together, with the possibility that any alleged defect in any constituent element of a piece can be rectified by reference to the entirety of the piece (the so-called “bane and antidote” approach).

However, the revised Code’s reference to “headlines not supported by the text” certainly appears to open the door to the possibility that publications may well be adjudicated on defined elements of a piece (headline/text) separately despite the common law position in similar situations. As with all such changes, it remains to be seen how exactly IPSO will interpret the revised Code, but it does not seem to be beyond the realms of possibility, in the absence of any provision similar to Charleston principle within the Code, that a publication might be found in breach of this provision, where a headline and the text accompanying it differ substantially, even if the text as a whole could be read as curing any alleged inaccuracy in the headline.

A copy of the revised Code can be found here, though it will apply only to complaints concerning material published on January 1st 2016 or later. 

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