Complaints Officer Alice Gould explains the circumstances where journalists will need to contact someone they’re writing a story about – and why sometimes they don’t have to.
At IPSO we receive quite a few inquiries from people wanting advice about whether journalists need to contact them before publishing a story about them.
If someone is involved in a news story, they could potentially be approached by members of the press for comment, information or even photographs. Some people may not want to speak to the press (advice about what to do if this is the case here) whereas others may choose to speak to journalists.
It could be quite surprising to open a newspaper and see that an article has been written about you – but depending on the nature of the story, a newspaper may be entitled to publish without contacting you beforehand.
This is because the Editors’ Code of Practice, the set of rules which IPSO enforces, does not state that journalists must contact every individual or company before publication of every story.
If the article is reporting on factual information that is already in the public domain, such as a recent court case or comments made publicly on social media, not contacting someone before the article is published is highly unlikely to be a breach of our rules.
However there may be times when not contacting someone could lead to a potential breach of the Editors’ Code.
The Code makes clear in Clause 1 (Accuracy) that the press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text. This means that sometimes it might be necessary to contact an individual to ensure care is taken over the accuracy of what is published.
If an article contains personal or serious allegations or claims against an individual, it may be appropriate and necessary to give that individual an opportunity to respond to these claims, or to deny them if they wish.
The Code also contains a requirement for a publication to give a “fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies should be given, when reasonably called for”, but this relates to information that has already been published, rather than a requirement for pre-publication contact.
There are many reasons a journalists may need or want to contact someone prior to publication – for example, to check facts, to seek further information, or to get comment − but the newspaper is not under a duty to contact every person involved in every story they write.
In fact, there are several reasons why they might not, for example:
If you need further advice about this you can contact IPSO for further information at firstname.lastname@example.org