Outside street and metal joints view.

Guardian beefs up its privacy code

09 August 2011. Published by Keith Mathieson, Partner

Guardian News & Media, owner of the Guardian and Observer, has revised its internal editorial guidelines and beefed up the sections that protect privacy.

The new guidelines supplement the provisions of the PCC Code, which provide that "Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence, including digital communications.  Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent. Account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information. It is unacceptable to photograph individuals in private places without their consent."

The Guardian acknowledges in its guidelines that much journalism "may be intrinsically intrusive" but that a person's privacy must not be invaded unless there is a clear public interest.  To help journalists decide whether material is intrusive, the Guardian has developed five core principles, which it has based on the work of Sir David Omand, a former intelligence officer:

1. There must be sufficient cause – the intrusion needs to be justified by the scale of potential harm that might result from it.

2. There must be integrity of motive - the intrusion must be justified in terms of the public good that would follow from publication

3. The methods used must be in proportion to the seriousness of story and its public interest, using the minimum possible intrusion.

4. There must be proper authority – any intrusion must be authorised at a sufficiently senior level and with appropriate oversight.

5. There must be a reasonable prospect of success; fishing expeditions are not justified"

Key to these changes is the express recognition of the need for proportionality, a concept taken from human rights law.  The Guardian has also accepted the need to use principles-based regulation, rather than having detailed rules prescribing how things must be done.  This is in contrast to the approach of Ofcom and the BBC, which both use a mixture of overarching principles and detailed rules.

Other changes to the Guardian's guidelines include:

    • A requirement that articles that include significant intrusions into children's private lives without their understanding and consent need a strong public interest justification.
    • The need for consideration to be given to obscuring children's identities with online copy to protect them from embarrassment in years to come.
    • A restriction on publishing anonymous contributions only in exceptional circumstances, for example where the author's safety, privacy or livelihood may be compromised.
    • The renaming of the requirement to attribute sources from "plagiarism" to "credits".
    • New guidance on bribery and facilitation payments
  • Restrictions on endorsements

See further chapter 11 of The Privacy Law Handbook

(Originally blogged by Jaron Lewis)

Internal editorial guidelines