Press code strengthened: Quarterly report of Sir Gordon Downey, the Independent's Reader Representative

AN AMENDED Code of Practice for newspapers and magazines was ratified by the Press Complaints Commission on 30 June.

Among the changes designed to strengthen the earlier code are new provisions banning bugging devices and the use of long-lens cameras to photograph people on private property. Exceptions are only allowed in the public interest, which is newly defined as:

Detecting or exposing crime or a serious misdemeanour;

Protecting public health and safety;

Preventing the public from being misled by some statement or action of an individual or organisation.

In any cases raising issues beyond these definitions, the Press Complaints Commission will require a full explanation by the editor, seeking to demonstrate how the public interest was served.

There is also a much expanded provision on dealing with any case involving a sexual offence against a child. This is designed to ensure that the identity of the child cannot be deduced from the disclosure of related information.

This makes clear that the adult should be identified but the child should not; that terms such as 'incest' should be avoided; and that care should be taken that nothing in the report should imply the relationship between the accused and the child.

Finally, in addition to their general reponsibility for the actions of their journalists, editors are specifically required to ensure that the code's provisions on harassment are observed. In particular, unless justified on public interest grounds, journalists may not photograph individuals on private property without their consent; should not persist in telephoning or questioning individuals after having been asked to desist; and should not remain on their property when asked to leave.

The Independent has reaffirmed its commitment to the code and supports the strengthened provisions.

From my own observation, I know that the code is taken seriously by all departments and that higher industry standards are welcomed.

It is of course, unrealistic to expect any newspaper to avoid making some mistakes. Indeed, the code acknowledges that this will happen from time to time. When it does, it is important that any complaint should be handled conscientiously and that, where appropriate, a suitable correction or apology is published.

Most complaints are handled by the departments concerned and a very high proportion are settled to the satisfaction of the complainant. I get involved in some of these cases and a very few end up with the Press Complaints Commission.

To date, the commission has reached no adverse adjudication against the Independent or the Independent on Sunday.

Readers' complaints should be sent to the Editor in the first instance. Where appropriate, the Editor will refer them to Sir Gordon Downey. Readers may also write directly to Sir Gordon, particularly if dissatisfied with the initial handling of a complaint. The address is: The Independent, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB.

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