22nd January 2024
Standards Code 101: What it Really Means to Uphold the Impress Standards Code

You may have seen us talking about our Impress Standards Code before, whether that is on social media, on our website, or in the news.

But what actually is the Code? And why is it so important? In this blog we shed a bit more light on those questions.

What is the Impress Code?

The Impress Code is a document which provides guidance to people or organisations publishing news. There are ten different clauses within the Code, and these assist publishers with ensuring that their publications meet ethical standards, while protecting their role to investigate and report freely.

Why do we need it?

While the Impress Standards Code is important for publishers to know inside out, it is also helpful for the general public to be aware of so they know what to look for when consuming news.

With an increasing amount of news consumption now being online, alongside the rise in AI-generated information, it is important to ensure that publications are as accurate and ethical as possible. This minimises the spread of false information and potentially hurtful or discriminatory publications.

Everyone can play a part in ensuring publications stick to these high standards. If you think an article breaches a section of the Code, let the publisher know, and then escalate to Impress if you are unsatisfied with the response!

So what is covered by the Code?

Accuracy: This clause reinforces the importance of publishers ensuring that their content is accurate. The Code requires them to clearly distinguish fact and opinion, and take steps to verify the accuracy of their content. This ensures that readers like us, can trust that the information we’re reading is as accurate as possible.

This clause is particularly significant when using information from online sources. Whilst the internet and social media can make news readily available to many people, there is a large amount of inaccurate, unreliable, harmful, and unlawful content.

If a publisher does publish inaccurate content, they are required to correct it as soon as possible.

Attribution and Plagiarism: Plagiarism is the use of another person’s work without their consent or without full recognition of their work. As such, publishers must ensure they identify and credit the author of any published content.

This will also ensure the accuracy of the published content is upheld. If published material is found to be plagiarised, the publisher must correct this immediately.

Children: If publishers want to report on children under the age of 18 they must have the child’s consent, and where necessary, the consent of an appropriate adult. They must also ensure that any reporting will not cause the child harm or risk the child’s physical, social, or mental well-being.

Publishers must only engage with children when this will not cause them harm, and the identification of a child can only be revealed when it is relevant to the story after consent is obtained.

However, if there is an extremely high level of public interest, publishers may not need to seek consent.

Public interest: Sometimes, journalists may have to breach parts of the code due to public interest. This means that the public has a legitimate stake in, and/or a right to know about a story because of its importance to society. As such, if this can be justified, journalists may forego following parts of the Code.

Discrimination: Under the discrimination clause, publishers must not make derogatory references to a person’s characteristics. These include age, disability, health, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, pregnancy or marital/civil partnership status. Alongside this, publishers must not refer to a person’s characteristics unless they are relevant and necessary to the story in question.

Our Code also states that publishers must not encourage hatred or abuse against any group based on the characteristics listed above. This includes language which encourages others to commit acts of violence against a group or encourages others to discriminate and the use of dehumanising language against a particular group of people.

This clause does not prevent journalists from engaging in debates over ideologies and political viewpoints. Both sides of a debate should have the space to represent their views, even if they may be viewed as controversial.

Harassment: Journalists must not intimidate or harass the public or any subjects to obtain a story or information. The Code considers harassment as the pursuit of a person when the pursuer knows the individual wishes to be left alone. Intimidation can involve coercion, blackmail, physical intimidation and verbal abuse.

Journalists must not act deceptively: they should identify themselves as journalists when making contact and comply with requests to cease contacting, following, and photographing a person.

If deceptive methods are used to obtain information, publishers should be able to prove the necessity of this information to the story, including, that the means used to collect the information were proportionate to the significance of the information obtained.

Justice: Publishers must not obstruct or prejudice any ongoing criminal proceedings. This includes avoiding publishing material which may change or impact the outcome of a criminal trial, such as labelling parties as guilty or innocent. Publishers also have a duty not to obstruct trials by tampering or interfering with evidence.

Publishers must also avoid identifying any person under criminal investigation unless the police have released the name or identifying information and preserve the anonymity of victims of sexual offences except when the victim provides consent.

Privacy: Publishers must respect people’s reasonable expectation to privacy. This means taking into consideration the nature of the information in question, the nature of the place concerned (such as a home or school), how the information was communicated (such as a personal diary or on a private social media account), and any relevant attributes of the person (age or public profile).

Unless deemed necessary by the public interest clause, publishers are not allowed to use covert means to gather information, exacerbate grief or distress through intrusive news gathering or reporting, and must give consideration to online privacy settings. For example, if a person posts a photograph online, this does not mean that person intended this photo for public consumption.

Sources: When gaining material for publishing, journalists must respect the anonymity of sources when confidentiality has been agreed – unless the source has been significantly dishonest. Also, publishers must not invent or fabricate sources in order to create material for a story.

The use of anonymous sources should only be used in exceptional circumstances to ensure the accuracy and transparency of published content.

Self-Harm and Suicide: When reporting on self-harm or suicide, publishers must not provide excessive details such as the method used, specific locations, or speculate on motive. This both prevents imitation by others, especially if the person is a celebrity, and aims to protect the vulnerability of people with suicidal tendencies to act upon this information.

Publishers have a duty to signpost sources of support such as helplines and charities when reporting on self-harm and suicide and encourage vulnerable people to seek help.

Transparency: Publishers must identify content that has been paid for. Readers must be able to distinguish between independent editorial content and sponsored content.

Publishers must also ensure that significant conflicts of interest are disclosed and provide clear labelling of AI-related content. As AI can create difficulties with accuracy, publishers must prominently label content which has been generated by AI, and understand that the public are allowed to make complaints to Impress about content which has been generated by AI.

What can you do next?

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