IPSO Blog: How IPSO deals with concerns about harassment

Communications Manager Vikki Julian on how IPSO can support those receiving unwanted press attention.

Contacting people involved in a story is an important part of how news is gathered. Often people will choose to speak to the press and the majority of contact between journalists and individuals is amicable and professional. 

Where approaches by journalists become distressing or overstep the mark, IPSO can help. 

What are the rules? 

The Editors’ Code, the set of rules that newspapers and magazines regulated by IPSO must follow, protects individuals’ rights to be left alone. Clause 3 (Harassment) says that once asked to do so, journalists must stop approaching, following or questioning someone (although there is a defence if it is in the public interest). 

How can IPSO help? 

We offer a 24/7 harassment helpline and regularly provide assistance to a wide range of people – from ordinary members of the public to celebrities and public figures. This includes practical advice about how to deal with any enquiries from journalists and guidance about your rights under the Editors’ Code. 

In appropriate cases, we are able to issue an industry-wide private advisory notice, to make editors’ and journalists aware of any concerns that someone might have about being approached, and noting what the Code says about how they should behave. 

Private advisory notices 

In 2018 we issued 60 private advisory notices in response to concerns about harassment (we record these in our annual report). They are confidential, not for publication, and can be sent to individual newspapers or to the industry generally. 

Unlike broadcast regulators, we can act before publication, so we also send the notices to broadcasters who – although not regulated by IPSO – receive them on a goodwill basis. 

In addition to requests that journalists desist from further approaches, the notices may also pass on concerns about the potential publication of intrusive or private information or help people find space at a time of grief or shock – making clear, for example, that those who have suffered a bereavement do not want to talk to the press. 

How they work 

If you are concerned about unwanted approaches from journalists, you should call IPSO. You will be able to speak to one of our experienced complaints officers. A member of the team is on call 24 hours a day to deal with urgent harassment issues. They will discuss your concerns, and give practical advice and guidance. 

If appropriate, they may also discuss issuing a notice, which will allow you to communicate to the industry a specific request (e.g.to stop telephoning you) or concerns about the future publication of material which might breach the Code. 

We will ask you to set out your concerns in an email to us, and this will form the basis of the notice, along with a note from IPSO which summarises your request and reminds editors of their obligations under the Code. 

Why they work 

A private advisory notice isn’t an injunction or an order to a newspaper, and is not a tool for “killing” a story, but it is an effective way of communicating with the industry as a whole. Failing to comply with a desist request may be a breach of the Code (unless the editor can show a public interest defence). 

You can find out more about our harassment services here.


Originally published 5 March 2020.