IPSO Blog: Data protection in journalism

Senior Policy & Communications Officer Hanno Fenech reviews the draft journalism code of practice from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

The UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) works to uphold the Data Protection Act 2018 and enforce the UK General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Within this remint, the ICO has drafted guidance about how personal data should be processed in journalism. 

Aimed at media organisations and journalists, the code helps explain publishers’ legal obligations under the Data Protection Act and fleshes out considerations around the balance between the public interest in free expression and protecting personal privacy. 

The draft code is clear that journalism plays an important role in the free flow of communications necessary for our democratic society. The Data Protection Act specifically protects journalism and the inherit public interest in free expression. It creates special exemptions for journalism in handling personal data. For example, exemptions apply when processing personal data for the purpose of journalism and publication, and when there is a reasonable belief that publication of personal information is within the public interest. 

The draft code goes on to outline how the processing of personal data for journalism can remain within data protection law. These steps include being able to demonstrate compliance with the law (by showing appropriate data protection measures are in place); keeping personal data secure; justifying the use of personal data; taking reasonable steps to ensure accuracy; and helping persons’ involved exercise their data protection rights. 

Under the rules of the Editors’ Code of Practice, news publishers must ensure that all the information they publish is accurate and establishes a clear entitlement to privacy. Clause 2 (Privacy) establishes that everyone is entitled to respect for their private and family life, home, physical and mental health, and correspondence, including digital communications. Any intrusions into an individual’s private life without consent must be justified, and that photograph of individuals is unacceptable without their consent in places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. 

Consultation on the draft has commenced, and IPSO will be submitting a formal response in January 2022. 

Read the draft ICO code here. 

To read more about IPSO’s work protecting personal privacy, including our privacy advisory service, click here. 

Originally published 15 October 2021.