IPSO Blog: Help with unwanted press attention or harassment concerns

Head of Complaints Bianca Strohmann on how IPSO can help with harassment and our private advisory notice system.

Members of the public are contacted by journalists every day. It’s how stories are gathered, helps ensure what’s published is accurate and gives the subject of the story an opportunity to respond.

The vast majority of contact between the public and journalists is amicable and professional. However, sometimes there are occasions where it might overstep the mark or where a series of otherwise professional approaches becomes distressing.

In such cases, IPSO can help.

We regularly provide assistance to a range of people – from ordinary members of the public to celebrities and public figures. This includes practical advice about how to deal with journalist enquiries and guidance about your rights under the Editors’ Code.

In appropriate cases, we may also be able to issue an industry-wide private advisory notice, to make editors’ and journalists aware of your concerns and what the Code says about how they should behave.

The private advisory notice system

In 2016 we issued 44 private advisory notices in response to concerns about harassment. They are confidential, not for publication, and can be sent to individual newspapers or to the industry generally.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.

The notices are extremely effective as a tool to tackle media “scrums” or to prevent harassment. They can 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.

We follow up every notice we issue, and in the overwhelming majority of cases, the notice works.

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 may be able to 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 (our complaints officers can help you with this), 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

The Editors’ Code protects individual’s rights to be left alone. Clause 3 (Harassment) tells editors that, once asked, journalist must stop approaching, following or questioning someone.

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).