Journalists to be bound by industry code of practice: 'Intrusions into private life not acceptable'

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JOURNALISTS, including editors, are to have the Press Complaints Commission's code of practice written into their contracts of employment, in an attempt by the industry to convince the Government that it can police itself without legislation.

The code of practice includes a commitment that 'intrusions into a person's private life . . . are not generally acceptable and publication can only be justified when in the public interest'.

The commission appeared on the verge of collapse at the start of this week when the Daily Mirror and Sunday Mirror published pictures of the Princess of Wales taken in a private gym, then threatened to withdraw from the commission when Lord MacGregor, its chairman, criticised them widely and publicly.

On Wednesday the commission met to discuss the alleged breach of its guidelines and devised a compromise which agreed that Lord MacGregor would not pre-judge newspapers before the commission had met and the Mirror titles agreed to rejoin.

In a statement yesterday, the commission attempted to put this week's dispute in perspective by saying that it considers 2,000 complaints a year from the public, and only a 'tiny fraction of them' relate to intrusions of privacy.

The statment says: 'The vast majority of these complaints are dealt with swiftly and effectively within the self-regulatory system that the industry had been building over the last three years. Seven out of 10 complaints concern accuracy and more than 80 per cent of these are resolved very quickly to the satisfaction of the members of the public who complained.'

The newspaper industry was now committed to the progressive incorporation of the code of practice into individual contracts. 'This process of setting the code at the heart of journalists' employment continues and the commission are now seeking to ensure that, within an agreed timetable, all editors of national newspapers have the clauses of the code of practice written into their contracts of employment.

'Any future gross breaches of the code of practice will then become a matter on which employers can consider disciplinary action which could include dismissal.'

The commission said it was determined that press self-regulation would be strengthened and that it would be working with the industry to develop the present system to reinforce the code.