Cracking the editor’s code

My head is full of cold.

But it’s also full of code.

Not the cool spy kind, or the even cooler computer language kind.

This kind, the IPSO Editor’s Code of Practice kind.

It’s not often that I quibble with an IPSO ruling on that code.

But I was taken aback by its complaints committee’s latest decision – that it was ok for a news website to name 15-year-old girls who had objected to a new uniform rule at their school.

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The Leicester Mercury had taken the names from a public petition site, arguing that the information was fairly and squarely in the public domain and available to anyone else with time to track them down.

The whole question of quoting children – who in IPSO’s eyes are the under-16s – is a messy one.

One paper I recently worked with won’t vox-pop anyone under 18.

The code says that conversations with children about their welfare have to be approved by their parents or ‘similarly responsible adult.’

When training journalists on the code, I’ve always used a scenario where pupils had staged a walk-out over some new rules at their school to test understanding of Clause Six.

As far as I was concerned, the relationship between a child and his or her school is very much about their welfare.

But this judgement offers a very different interpretation, saying that arguments over school uniform rules are fair game.

The fact that the Mercury removed the names from its web story after complaints, and didn’t include them in its print version, suggests to me that it knew it had been pushing its luck.

I can see a good story here, and I can see the argument that those names are already public.

What I can’t see is the benefit of identifying individual kids here. And what I can’t see is the responsibility of protecting the vulnerable from themselves.

If we took every statement made by a 15-year-old at face value, we’d have a fairly skewed view of life.

The ruling comes as IPSO has launched a consultation exercise on whether the code needs changing.

I asked a group of students what they’d like to add to the guidelines last week, and they came up with the intriguing idea of greater protection for older people.

There might certainly be something in that, particularly when it comes to crime reporting.

IPSO itself has done the industry a massive favour by producing an incredibly detailed guide to its interpretation of the code.

I’ve promised myself I’ll find time over Christmas to read all 104 pages of it.

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There have been no shortage of ideas for IPSO to consider.

Veteran commentator Peter Preston has floated the idea of greater co-operation between it and the rival regulator Impress over a single code.

While journalism professor Tim Crook has argued that the IPSO code is too prescriptive and small-minded, and that the regulator should be outlining a nobler mission for journalism.

It is important that all of us who are journalists have a code of practice that we can believe in.

If we think it can be better, now’s the chance to say so.

 

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