IPSO Blog: Exploring the circumstances and application of Privacy Notices

Communications & Public Affairs Officer Hanno Fenech explores the application of Privacy Notices in reference to recent decisions of the IPSO Complaints Committee.

The overwhelming majority of interactions between members of the public and journalists are amicable and professional. On a few occasions, a member of the press may overstep the mark, or a series of otherwise professional approaches may become overwhelming. In these circumstances, IPSO can help. 

In appropriate cases we can issue a Private Advisory Notice, an industry-wide alert notifying the press that someone does not want to speak and reminding them of their obligations under the Editors’ Code of Practice. 

The purpose of private advisory notices is to prevent harassment and protect individuals, but they do not act as blanket bans on all contact from journalists, or prohibit the printing of future stories about a subject. Very occasionally there may be specific circumstances where despite a desist request, it may well be appropriate to make an approach to the subject of a story. 

Two recent decisions of IPSO’s Complaints Committee outline these circumstances. 

In Newman v Daily Record, the Committee ruled that although a private advisory notice had been issued for an individual three years prior, given the passage of time, and the fact that there had been a significant development in the story, the publication could not assume that the complainant’s position remained the same. It was reasonable for the newspaper to give the individual the opportunity to comment on serious allegations and their approach did not represent a failure to respect a request to desist in breach of Clause 3(ii). 

Desist requests do not last indefinitely, and in circumstances where significant time has passed, newspapers will need to balance previous requests with the need to allow a fair opportunity to reply to new allegations or a significantly new slant on a story. 

In Gordon v Sunday Life, the Committee found that the private advisory notice issued on behalf of the complainant had expressly applied to reporting on a specific incident and set of circumstances. A journalist’s inquiry which followed the issuance of the notice regarding an issue significantly distinct from that covered by the private advisory notice, made in a polite way via email, did not constitute harassment. 

A private advisory notice does not act as a blanket ban on all contact from journalists or prohibition of future stories. 

Find out more about PANS here. 

Originally published 14 August 2020.