It is important to us that we get things right. Our commitment to high standards is embodied in our company Code of Conduct, which is set out in full below. This Code applies to all members of our editorial staff, as well as freelancers who work for us, and our business partners.
In the event that we get something wrong, we would like to know about it. As such, for any feedback or complaints about editorial material – either in print or online – or about the conduct of our journalists in the course of their work please contact our complaints and customer service team via firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have any queries about the complaints process please email the office of the editor by email via email@example.com.
Introduction and scope
The reputation of our brands is based on the editorial independence, integrity and high journalistic standards of our output.
The rules set out here are intended to apply to all our platforms (print, digital and broadcast), unless it is stated otherwise. You must follow these rules even when they set a ‘higher bar’ than other external regulations unless you have specific approval to the contrary from a senior executive.
The Editorial provisions of the Code are applicable to all employees, workers, and contributors to the Group’s publications, whether contracted or freelance or otherwise commissioned. While individuals take personal responsibility for their own compliance, managers should also ensure this Code is understood and complied with by employees, workers and contributors in their own areas. If managers believe that they or those working for them have insufficient knowledge about the legal and regulatory environment within which they work, they must contact the managing editor’s office.
In addition to this Code, you must adhere to the general law and any other external regulations as required by the Group.
Many staff will work primarily for one company within the Group. Managers should be aware, therefore, that individuals may require advice and guidance on regulatory questions if they are contributing to a platform that is outside their usual sphere of operations.
If you have any queries about relevant regulations or legal matters, please contact the managing editor’s office or head of legal as appropriate.
The public interest
Breaking rules can sometimes be justified where there is a legitimate ‘public interest’ in publishing a story. This can include such things as detecting or exposing crime or impropriety, protecting the security of the general public and preventing people and communities from being misled by the behaviour of another individual or organisation. The public interest is not, of course, the same thing as ‘being interesting to the public’. Context is vital to making judgements about what might be in the public interest.
With regard to the law, it is no defence to certain criminal offences (e.g. phone-hacking) that any resulting story would be in the public interest. In other areas of the law (for instance the Data Protection Act), the public interest might be a factor but you should seek legal advice if you believe that your journalistic activity may result in a breach of any legislation.
If you believe that a story breaches this Code or industry best practice but has a public interest justification you should discuss the terms of that justification as precisely as possible with your line manager and, if necessary, with other senior editorial executives. If circumstances permit, it may be useful to take a brief note of such discussions, although the Group recognises that it will often not be feasible because of deadline and other time pressures. If in doubt, speak in the first instance to your line manager. If you are planning an undercover investigation (i.e. any investigation where you are deliberately hiding the fact that you are a journalist) you should always seek prior approval from the managing editor’s office, bearing in mind the information in this Code below.
Pre-publication editorial and legal clearance
You must fully cooperate with the editors in the area you are working in or for, and undertake whatever pre-publication checks and research are requested by those editors or by the companies’ legal advisers or other relevant executives.
Legal claims can be hugely expensive to the Group as well as damaging to its reputation. To be in the best position to defend a claim or complaint it is important that the people involved in preparation and publication of the story ensure that:
- their pre-publication conduct is beyond reproach;
- they use their best efforts to get all the facts right;
- they do the necessary research and;
- they seek a response from the subject of an article if appropriate (which it usually will be).
Always ask for advice about any specific issues you are not sure about. Also, be mindful of the need to remain up to date with all information provided on legal and compliance subjects, and make sure you familiarise yourself with legal bulletins and notices sent out by your department heads, by the companies’ head of legal, the managing editor’s office or by other senior executives.
It is your duty to raise, in a full and frank manner and making full disclosure, any issues that could have a bearing on whether publication of any material you are involved in complies with all legal and regulatory requirements as well as any issues to do with staff conduct.
If in doubt about regulatory matters please contact your line manager or the managing editor’s office.
Identifying yourself and dealing with the public
In the course of your work you will speak to a great many people. Except in exceptional circumstances (see below), you should be up front about the fact you are a journalist and you must always identify who you are and who you work for when asked, unless there are public interest reasons for not doing so.
You must not intimidate or harass individuals nor engage in persistent physical pursuit. If you are asked to stop questioning, contacting, filming or photographing someone you must do so. Public interest exemptions can apply in this area but they are relatively rare. In the first instance you should consult your line manager if there is any complaint about your conduct (more information about what to do if someone makes a complaint is set out below).
The same rules apply when contacting somebody via email, Facebook or Twitter that apply in relation to face-to-face meetings and phone conversations: if someone says they don’t want to be contacted further, you should stop – whatever the platform you are communicating on.
In cases involving grief, you must conduct your enquiries with particular sympathy and discretion. If you plan to approach somebody who is in hospital (or any medical institution, including a care home) you are likely to require consent from the hospital’s authorities before doing so. You must not approach children at school without the consent of parents and the school authorities.
If an investigative story or any allegation of wrongdoing depends on the word of a single source you should try and get it corroborated by at least one other, unconnected and trustworthy source. In some circumstances you will need to formalise the evidence that you have obtained from a key source (eg by preparing a witness statement). You may in such cases need to speak to the Group’s head of legal.
If a source needs to remain confidential you should ensure that they cannot be identified – directly or indirectly – from your notes, or any data on your mobile phone or other device.
You should be cautious how you use the internet or social media to obtain material for a story, both in terms of trustworthiness of the information or identification, and also the rights in the material (eg copyright).
From the point of view of rights ownership, you should bear in mind that what you see online, including on social media, is not free for use just because it is free to view. So, not only must you consider questions of accuracy and privacy, you should also assess whether material can lawfully be reproduced or even drawn on without the consent of the rights holder and whether re-use of that material may carry a fee. In any event, you must always attribute content as fully as possible so that readers know its origins.
Consider too whether material – especially from social media or from historic sources – might constitute a contempt of court in relation to current, ongoing legal proceedings.
Dealings with children
There is no blanket prohibition on journalists talking to children or on using what they say for publication. However, you must not – unless there is an exceptional public interest – speak to a child under 16 on any subject that touches on his/her, or another child’s, welfare (that is, probably any personal issue) without the consent of whoever has legal custody of the child. It is usually not adequate to rely on consent from a teacher, a non-custodial parent or other family member, e.g. grandparent.
If in doubt, ask a child how old they are and get confirmation if you are still unsure. The onus is on you to establish an accurate age.
If you have any uncertainty about the public interest requirements or any other matter, do talk to your department head and then, as appropriate, the managing editor’s office, the Group’s head of legal or another senior executive.
Putting the story to the subject
It is not only good, responsible journalism but also a keystone of how we might defend a libel complaint, that any potentially critical or damaging reference is put to the subject before publication. This ensures that the subject is given the opportunity to point out any errors in a story as well as to comment on it so that their response can be included in the article in the interests of fairness. The more serious the allegation, the more important it is to provide the subject with a proper opportunity to respond. You should consider whether it would be appropriate to email a request in which you set out each allegation and give the subject an adequate amount of time to respond (sometimes it may be useful to send a repeat request). Always try to be realistic in your requests: bearing in mind the possibility that different time-zones and weekend/evening availability may have an impact on a subject’s ability to respond. And make sure you are as specific as possible in the questions you ask.
Contributors, especially to broadcast material, should be informed of the wider context within which their comments will be placed and – where applicable – be told about who else may be contributing to the same programme or article.
Note-taking and record-keeping
You should where possible make detailed notes or keep other contemporaneous records of pre-publication conversations or exchanges, and these should be retained, bearing in mind that you may have to produce them as evidence in court.
It is acceptable to audio-record key telephone conversations with people to whom you have identified yourself as a journalist provided you only use the recording as a background aid in place of or in addition to handwritten notes. If you intend to publish the recording you must make that clear at the outset and obtain consent (note: subterfuge, and its public interest justifications, is dealt with below).
If you have obtained material from the internet it is important that you retain copies of relevant pages, tweets, pictures or posts. Since information can easily be taken offline, you should take screen-grabs of any material that could be contentious or disputed.
Use of freelance journalists and due diligence procedures
When commissioning material from a freelance individual or entity, for example an outside investigative company, you should take steps to consider whether their track-record suggests they are professional, reliable and trustworthy.
If you are in any doubt, refer the issue to your department head. Any freelance you intend to use should be directed to this Code of Conduct and to the Terms for Freelance Contributions on the Group’s websites with which they are required to comply.
Payments for information / sources
We do not pay individuals or agencies for information about third parties that could breach their rights. However, there are exceptional circumstances when it could theoretically be acceptable: where the story would be in the public interest. If you are considering paying a source for such information you must fill in an Approval Form and submit it for approval to your line manager and the managing editor’s office.
Parents should not be paid for information involving their child’s welfare, unless payment can be shown genuinely to be in the child’s interest.
In line with industry best practice there can be no payments or promises of payment to witnesses in criminal trials; there can be no payments to those who might reasonably be expected to be witnesses in future trials unless there is a public interest; and there can be no payments to convicted criminals or their associates for any material relating to their crime, unless there are exceptional circumstances (in which case you must discuss the case with your line manager and the managing editor’s office).
Crucially, you must be aware that any payment to a police officer or public official will breach the law without exemption.
Subterfuge and the use of improper or illegal journalistic methods
No one should break the criminal law in their work for the Group.
Anyone engaging in any form of deception for journalistic purposes (and this includes where they do not make it clear they are a journalist when making enquiries) should seek approval in advance by completing an Approval Form. It is important that this happens at an early stage in order that a proper record of the decision-making process is made which can be produced subsequently if necessary.
The form should be completed after discussion with your department head and the managing editor’s office, if possible before you embark on any sort of undercover investigation, no matter how apparently insubstantial. Failure to get advance approval could lead to non-compliance with the company’s Code or a tainting of crucial legal evidence.
If you genuinely did not have an opportunity to seek approval in advance, or an external journalist or entity has come to us with evidence obtained through subterfuge, you must refer it urgently to your department head and the managing editor’s office so that the situation can be properly assessed.
Conflicts of Interest
You should be transparent about any outside political, philosophical, religious or financial interests that might conflict with your journalistic independence or integrity, or could be perceived to do so. You should declare an interest before publication to your department head when you are involved with something with which you have a significant connection. The desk head should then decide whether a declaration should appear in any relevant article or broadcast, referring the matter to the managing editor’s office as appropriate. For more information see the Conflicts of Interest Policy.
Even where the law may permit it, our journalists – whatever their status: employed, contracted, freelance or any other – should never use for their own profit financial information they receive in the course of their work before such information is published, nor should they pass such information to others. You must inform your department head of any significant interest in any shares or securities that you know you or your close family / associates hold before writing or broadcasting about such shares or securities. You must not buy or sell, directly or through nominees or agents, shares or securities about which you have written recently or intend to write or which you have discussed in broadcast material.
If anyone writing about financial information is concerned about a potential conflict of interest, they must raise their concerns immediately with their department head.
Confidentiality and other agreements
If you are presented with a confidentiality agreement – a book or speech embargo for example – you must pass it to your desk head and, where appropriate, discuss the matter with the managing editor’s office or the head of legal. Signature of such an agreement might bind not only your desk, but you and the company (or Group). You should not sign it or take on such a commitment without consulting whether that is in the Group’s interests.
If you agree with a content provider that our use of a story, picture or video material should be restricted, either in terms of our initial publication or our syndication or exploitation of it, then you should inform the syndication department who will, in liaison with the head of legal and / or managing editor’s office, issue the appropriate restricted rights warning.
We do not set out to offend the general reader or viewer and you should always consider how people will respond to our material. That is not to say that we should necessarily shy away from publication simply for fear that it might provoke a negative reaction in some quarters. Insofar as broadcast material is concerned, the Ofcom Code makes clear that: “generally accepted standards must be applied to the contents of TV…services so as to provide protection for members of the public from…harmful or offensive material.” It goes on: “Broadcasters must ensure that material which may cause offence is justified by context.”
With regard to material broadcast on YouTube or other video platforms you should, therefore, always consider factors including: the likely audience at the time the material appears; the possibility of needing to ‘sign-post’ upcoming material; and more generally whether the audience will understand the context of the material.
It is our primary endeavour to publish information that is accurate and will not mislead readers. You must take care not to distort information either by disingenuous phrasing or by omission.
If you think that material has been published or broadcast that is wrong, you should notify your line manager and the managing editor’s office. It may be necessary to take corrective action but you should not generally proceed without discussion.
TV news and other programmes that might be considered to fall into the ‘current affairs’ bracket are subject to rules governing impartiality. The Ofcom Code sets out those rules in full.
All substantial material and quotes should be attributed correctly (ie. by author and / or by title of the publication), whatever the source of such material, including another media outlet, agency, writer or journalist. Sources should be identified unless their security or a prior agreement of confidentiality dictates otherwise. The principle is to be transparent. Images should, similarly, be appropriately captioned. If you have sourced comments from social media or other websites you should take care to ensure that you do not present the material as if it has been provided as part of an interview. And remember that there may be a cost attached to re-using material whether you attribute it properly or not.
Quotes – direct and anonymous
If quoting someone directly, you should generally use their exact words. If you do not want to use the way they have expressed something then, if it is editorially justified, you should not quote directly but paraphrase their words in indirect speech, taking care not to change the actual meaning.
You should exercise caution if you want to quote someone anonymously. Ask yourself what their motivation is if they are not prepared to go on the record, and whether an improper purpose could taint their reliability as a source (and thus make defending our published or broadcast material more difficult).
Copy / picture approval
In order to ensure the integrity and independence of our editorial content we should not offer copy or picture approval to any subject. If this is the only way to secure an interview, approval must be sought in advance from your desk head or relevant senior executives.
Evidence suggests that media reporting of suicide can influence others who are suicidal or mentally fragile to take their own lives. When reporting suicide you should avoid excessive detail about the method used: information that amounts to a step-by-step guide will be too much. Care should also be taken not to glamorise suicide or its victims; and not perpetually to repeat details of past suicides at a particular place.
Stories about drugs / smoking / drinking
There are no specific rules regarding the presentation of information about drugs, tobacco or alcohol insofar as newspapers’ editorial content is concerned. However, the Ofcom Code makes clear that care should be taken not to glamorise on television the taking of such substances unless there is editorial justification (primarily in order to protect children).
Victims of sexual assault
When reporting on stories involving sexual assault, the utmost care should be taken to avoid identifying the victim. Legally, victims (and alleged victims) have a right to anonymity. However, this is not just a question of omitting an individual’s name; any identifying details should be avoided. Remember, a seemingly innocuous detail may be very revealing to members of a local community. You should also be aware of the possibility of jigsaw identification, where a combination of small details effectively identifies the victim. Remember, identifying a victim of a sex crime is a itself a criminal offence.
On occasion, an individual may waive their right to anonymity, or the court may permit the identification of the victim. In such circumstances, you should obtain clear evidence that consent has been granted before proceeding with publication in order to remove any possibility of confusion. Waivers of anonymity by a victim must be in writing. If in doubt, seek advice from the managing editor’s office or the head of legal.
Under no circumstances should a child victim of sexual assault or witness in a sex case be identified. Again, be wary of what details you include in the report; if the case involves incest, you can either identify the defendant but ensure that there is no suggestion of their relation to the victim, or report the incestuous nature of the crime, but ensure the defendant is not identified. You should be cognisant of how other media have reported the case to guard against accidental jigsaw identification.
Care should be taken not to discriminate against people on the basis of, for instance, their sexual orientation, religion or race (or by virtue of an illness or disability). This means avoiding pejorative references to those aspects of their lives; but it also means not referring to them at all unless relevant to story.
Privacy – general provisions
We should avoid intrusions into people’s privacy: that is, reporting details about their personal lives unless there is a clear public interest in doing so. For example, you should take care if thinking about reporting: addresses (or identifying private homes directly or indirectly); medical information; and information obtained in personal communications including email or limited access social media. The English law can be used to protect an individual’s privacy rights no matter where in the world that person is based.
In cases involving bereavement or shock, sensitivity and discretion are especially important, not only because of the personal impact on individuals but also because, in line with industry-wide guidelines, we do not permit any public interest justification for intruding into a person’s grief. We should not report gratuitous information about a person’s death or make light of genuine tragedies. Images of dead bodies (especially if the individual is identifiable) should be avoided except in exceptional circumstances, for instance in connection to reporting atrocities of war.
The Data Protection Act has the potential to impact journalists in two ways: 1) you might try to obtain information from people or organisations that will cite the Act as a reason for refusing to divulge information; and/or 2) as a person who is processing data, you have to comply with the Act when writing about personal information. More information about this is contained in the Data Protection Policy, and you should seek advice from your department head or the Group’s head of legal if you have any queries.
Privacy – and pictures
Individuals must not be photographed or filmed in places where they have a ‘reasonable expectation of privacy’ – nor should we knowingly publish material resulting from such photography/filming, whether created by us or by another person. This does not only refer to private property owned by the individual in question. Churches, cafes, places of work and hotels have all been regarded as places where there can be a reasonable expectation of privacy, and even public beaches. However, each case must be judged on its merits and you should discuss with relevant senior executives, the managing editor’s office or the Group’s legal advisers if in doubt.
If material is well-established in the public domain, that may over-ride the usual privacy protections. However, you must not work on the premise that, because you can access a picture publicly, it is therefore automatically safe for use.
Privacy – pictures of children and vulnerable adults
Under-16s must not be photographed or filmed on subjects about their welfare – or the welfare of other children – without the consent of their custodial parent/guardian. It is imperative that there is no room for debate about whether consent has been granted and you should always seek clarity before photographing/filming, if there is any doubt. This restriction, as well as the restriction on interviewing children referred to above, carries over into publication. In essence, even if the information or pictures have not come directly from the child him or herself (eg they might have come from another person who knows them), we should consider whether their use without permission might infringe their privacy.
A public interest justification for breaching these requirements must be classed as ‘exceptional’. You should seek advice from your department head and, if appropriate, from the managing editor’s office. You may also need to seek legal advice.
You must also be particularly careful not to do anything which could amount to taking advantage of vulnerable adults, which means those who are or may be in need of care services by reason of ‘mental or other disability, age or illness’ and who may be unable to protect themselves against ‘significant harm or exploitation’. If you are entering a non-public area of a hospital (or similar institution) you will need to obtain permission from a senior executive of the hospital, unless there is a public interest justification for not doing so.
Privacy – material from social media
Social media provides a wealth of information, some of which may legitimately be used by mainstream media. However, the internet can present an ethical vacuum and you should not assume that simply because something appears online it can be published by us. You must make a careful assessment of the veracity of information you find online – and of its apparent origins. For instance, can you be sure who uploaded the information: how do you prove that the person who apparently tweeted, commented or uploaded a photograph actually did so themselves?
It is also vital to consider whether republication in a major news outlet might invade someone’s privacy. Some of the things to consider in this regard are:
- What is the nature of the material (is it intrinsically private)?
- Who uploaded it and why? Did they intend that it be widely published?
- How widely has it been / can it be seen?
- Has that person waived their right to privacy in whole or as regards this particular aspect?
- Is there the public interest to justify a possible invasion of privacy?
Remember that a person’s right to privacy is not automatically lost simply because material about them has circulated online to some degree.
Your use of social media
As a journalist employed by or associated with the Group, material which you publish – for example, tweets, blogs, comments and images – helps our titles and websites gain exposure, audience and profile. However, there is potential for the Group to suffer reputational damage as a consequence of what you publish, even if you intend it only to be in a personal capacity. Despite the apparent informality and carefree feel of such online activities, they are publications in law and carry all the same implications.
If you have concerns about the conduct of another social media user towards you, please raise it immediately with your department head and, if appropriate, the managing editor’s office.
See the Social Media and Online Activities Policy for more information.
Responsibility of editorial staff and contributors
It is the responsibility of every department head, but also everyone working for the Group, whatever their status, to ensure that you follow up anything that might appear to you to be incorrect, even to a minor extent, or which raises any alarm bells from a legal or editorial point of view – whether or not you yourself are responsible for that material. You should pass any concerns to the managing editor’s office or the Group’s head of legal as appropriate.
If you receive any kind of complaint about a story you have been involved with, you should direct complainants to the Complaints & Corrections page of the website – and in serious or urgent cases forward concerns directly to your department head and the managing editor’s office as soon as possible. You should generally not make any response on your own initiative, however insignificant it might seem. If you indicate that a remedial course of action might be possible – which could include an apology or correction, promising a change to the online article, or running a letter – this could be construed as an admission of liability on behalf of the Group. Hence, you should not do so without the express approval of the managing editor’s office or the Group’s head of legal. You should co-operate fully with any investigations undertaken by the managing editor’s office or the Group’s head of legal in response to such complaints, and make full disclosure of all information, including documentary evidence, in your possession or of which you are aware.
If we publish information that turns out to be inaccurate it is important that the position be corrected. Sometimes an online amendment may be suitable, at other times it may be appropriate to publish a correction or an apology in print or broadcast a statement. Decisions about remedial action should be made in conjunction with the managing editor’s office and, where appropriate, the Group’s head of legal.
If you have any queries about this Code of Conduct, please email us and we will be happy to discuss your queries with you: firstname.lastname@example.org