According to the updated Editors' Code of Practice (Code), "the press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text".
At the moment the Code's provisions on accuracy do not refer specifically to headlines. The current code states that "the press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures".
The Code has been updated after changes were made to membership of the Editors' Code of Practice Committee in light of the Leveson report into the culture, practices and ethics of the press in 2012.
The Committee, which is responsible for keeping the Code "fresh, relevant and responsive", is now made up of a number of independent lay members and representatives from the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), as well as representatives from the British press.
IPSO is the independent regulatory body set up post-Leveson which handles complaints made about breaches of the Code. It regulates more than 1,500 print titles and over 1,100 online titles. There is much debate about whether IPSO is sufficiently independent from the industry which it is supposed to regulate, however, as it does not comply with many of Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations.
Other changes to the Code that will have effect from 1 January next year include changes to provisions relating to privacy.
The new Code mirrors the existing one to the extent that it sets out that "everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence, including digital communications" and that editors must "justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent". However, the revised Code makes clear that photographing people in a public place can, in some circumstances, be an unjustified intrusion of privacy.
"It is unacceptable to photograph individuals, without their consent, in public or private places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy," according to the revised Code. This is in line with a recent decision of the Court of Appeal (23-page / 98KB PDF) where it ruled that photographs published of Paul Weller’s children on a family shopping trip in California were a misuse of the children’s private information.
The Code provides for exceptions to some of the provisions, including those on privacy, where publishers can point to there being an overriding public interest in engaging in activity that otherwise breaches the Code.
Under the revised Code, the non-exhaustive public interest provisions are extended.
Journalistic activity taken in the public interest might include detecting or exposing crime, the threat of crime or serious impropriety, protecting public health or safety or protecting the public from being mislead.
The public interest might also be served by revealing a failure or likely failure by individuals or organisations to meet "any obligation to which they are subject", disclosing a miscarriage of justice, raising or contributing to a matter of public debate, including serious cases of impropriety, unethical conduct or incompetence concerning the public, or disclosing any concealment or likely concealment of any of the listed wrongdoings, according to the new Code.
Under the updated Code, editors seeking to rely on the public interest to justify publishing material or journalistic activity that is "taken with a view to publication" would "need to demonstrate that they reasonably believed" that the publication or activity "would both serve, and be proportionate to, the public interest and explain how they reached that decision at the time".