Credit: Information Commissioner's Office

Calling all UK journalists, editors, media organisations, bloggers and academics: have your say on how to approach and handle personal data in journalism.

For journalists and editors especially, privacy and freedom of expression can feel like competing forces, as for most stories, they must consider whether personal data should remain private or be published.

It means that it is crucial that journalists are well-informed and well-equipped to make those types of judgement calls.

But as new high-profile cases come to light, followed by changes to the industry business models and scrutiny over journalistic practice, the pressing need for clear guidance is growing, according to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), a UK independent body for data protection and information rights.

The ICO is required by the Data Protection Act 2018 set out by the UK Government to create a new journalism code of practice on approaches to personal data, which builds on existing guidance and frameworks, written in response to the recommendations of the Leveson Inquiry.

It has no formal legal status, but it sets out practical and technical guidance, from collecting data to what is deemed sensitive information, as well as handling disputes to the ICO.

The new ‘Call for Views’ survey seeks professional insight from across the industry on everything from the code’s structure, to new areas of practical guidance, stumbling blocks, good practice, external factors and updated case law.

“We would welcome examples of any situation in which editors or journalists more generally find compliance with data protection law challenging, both to help us tailor the guidance so that it addresses the most common issues that journalists have to deal with, and to give us practical real-life examples that we can use in guidance to demonstrate best practice," said deputy commissioner, ICO, Steve Wood.

While the code is not being written in response to any particular case, Wood said the recent £120k penalty served on True Visions Productions for unlawful filming by the ICO highlights the importance of respecting individuals’ privacy and complying with data protection law when processing personal data for the purposes of journalism.

"It is not the ICO’s role to become involved in journalistic standards more widely. However, the public is more aware of, and protective of, their privacy rights than ever. Respecting individuals’ rights and treating their personal data within the law is vital to maintaining the public’s trust, and this applies to journalism just as much as any other purpose," said Wood.

"The Code will give journalists a helpful, practical toolkit to help them comply with their obligations, and show that data protection law does not prevent responsible journalism."

Following on from the Call for Views, the ICO will be putting together a draft of the new code for consultation during the summer.

Have something to add? Submit your thoughts by 27 May 2019.

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