Editors' Code

What is the Editors’ Code of Practice?

The Editors’ Code is a set of rules that newspaper and magazine industry members have agreed to accept. It sets the standards that newspapers and magazines can be held to account by IPSO and is part of the contract between IPSO and the newspapers and magazines it regulates.

Who writes the Editors' Code?

The Code is administered by the Editors’ Code of Practice Committee which includes ten editors and five lay members, including the Chairman and Chief Executive of IPSO.

Can I see what kind of cases IPSO has dealt with already under a particular clause?

All of IPSO's rulings are searchable by clause in the Rulings section.

Why does the Code not cover issues of taste and decency?

The Editors' Code does not address issues of taste and offence. It is designed to address the potentially competing rights of freedom of expression and other rights of individuals, such as privacy. Newspapers and magazines have editorial freedom to publish what they consider to be appropriate provided that the rights of individuals are not compromised and that the Code is not otherwise breached.

Can newspapers report whatever is revealed in a court or inquest, even if it is upsetting?

IPSO recognises that media attention during a court case or inquest can be distressing to the families and friends of those involved. Generally speaking, the principle of open justice means newspapers and magazines are entitled to report on what is revealed in court, provided that the court has not imposed any reporting restrictions. There are provisions in the Editors’ Code which are relevant to reporting in this area and which editors and journalists must adhere to.

Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) and Clause 5 (Reporting of suicide) state that publication must be handled sensitively at times of grief and shock. It also makes clear that this should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings, such as inquests. While the Editors' Code entitles editors to report any inquest, it also requires that sensitivity at the same time be shown to those in grief. This may mean not making light of the circumstances of the death, or including gratuitous detail.

Clause 7 (Children in sex cases) makes clear the press must not identify children under 16 who are victims or witnesses in cases involving sex offences, even journalists are legally free to do so.

Clause 11 (Victims of sexual assault) says the press must not identify victims of sexual assault or publish material likely to contribute to identification unless their is adequate justification and they are legally free to do so.

Are there specific parts of the Editors' Code that apply to photographs?

Clause 1 (Accuracy) prohibits the publication of inaccurate, misleading or distorted material which includes pictures.

Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Code relates generally to respect for private and family life, home, health and correspondence and states that it is unacceptable to photograph individuals in private places without their consent.

Clause 3 (Harassment) states that journalists and photographers must neither obtain nor seek to obtain information or pictures through intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit.

The Clauses that seek to protect vulnerable groups of people – in particular those relating to children (Clause 6) and hospitals (Clause 8) – include provisions on the actions of photographers as well as reporters, as does Clause 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge).

Can I make suggestions for changes to the Code?

Anyone can suggest possible changes to the Editors’ Code. Further details are available from the Editors’ Code Committee.

How does the Editors' Code define 'public interest'?

There is no exhaustive definition of the term ‘public interest'. As set out in the Code it includes but is not limited to:

  • detecting or exposing crime, or the threat of crime, or serious impropriety
  • protecting public health or safety
  • protecting the public from being misled by an action or statement of an individual or organisation
  • disclosing a person or organisation’s failure or likely failure to comply with any obligation to which they are subject
  • disclosing a miscarriage of justice
  • raising or contributing to a matter of public debate, including serious cases of impropriety, unethical conduct or incompetence concerning the public
  • disclosing concealment, or likely concealment, of any of the above
  • there is a public interest in freedom of expression itself.

IPSO will consider the extent to which material is already in the public domain or will or will become so. Editors invoking the public interest will need to demonstrate that they reasonably believed publication  or journalistic activity taken with a view to publication would both serve, and be proportionate to, the public interest and explain how they reached that decision at the time.An exceptional public interest would need to be demonstrated to over-ride the normally paramount interests of children under 16.

Does the Editors' Code cover user-generated content like comments under online articles?

It depends whether the material has been the subject of an editorial decision-making process. Comments that are pre-moderated before being published online would be considered to have gone through a process of editorial control and therefore would generally fall under the terms of the Editors' Code.  If comments have been brought to publication's attention and remain online, they are within our remit. 

Are 'citizen journalists' covered by the Editors' Code?

Yes, if they submit material to newspapers and magazines that are regulated by IPSO. This would include freelancers, specialist contributors, photographers, readers' letters, as well as citizen journalists. An editor intending to publish material from such sources would need to be sure it complied with the Editors' Code.

Can a newspaper publish articles which are biased in favour of one political party?

The Editors’ Code allows newspapers and magazines to be partisan generally, including in their coverage of election-related material. The selection and presentation of material for publication is a matter for individual editors provided that the Editors’ Code of Practice has not otherwise been breached.