ICO Slams Editors for Comments on Journalism Code


The UK’s data protection watchdog has hit out at several newspaper editors for misrepresenting the nature of a draft code of practice for journalists.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is currently working with the media industry to develop a Journalism Code of Practice.

The aim is to help journalists meet their statutory data protection obligations, while pointing out where there are sector-specific carve-outs designed to support reporters in their important job to “inform the public and hold the powerful to account,” the ICO said.

However, an open letter sent to the government by the editors of The Daily Telegraph, The Times and the Daily Mail last week apparently warned that the code “undermines the very basis of journalism” and risks turning the ICO into a de facto regulator of the press.

Information commissioner, John Edwards, strongly criticized the comments in a blog post this week.

“Our codes do not create new law, but simply explain what is required under the existing law – indeed, similar codes already exist around protecting children’s data online or sharing data. There is nothing in our code that constitutes a limit on the freedom of the press,” he said.

“It is misdirected and disingenuous to criticize a draft code that is still under review, as part of our detailed and thorough consultation process. We have been speaking with journalists and those in the media throughout, to understand how data is used and how the law might apply to them.”

As such, the latest draft of the code reflects feedback from the media, although it will continue to be refined before its final publication, Edwards explained.

Although Fourth Estate plays a critical role in any thriving democracy, by scrutinizing the powerful and informing the public, newspapers have in the past been found guilty of pushing too far to ‘out-scoop’ each other.  

This can lead to egregious data protection violations such as a phone hacking scandal over a decade ago which ultimately prompted a government inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press.

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