Guardian office

Guardian News and Media offices, where privacy guidelines have been updated

Credit: Michael Bruntonspall on Flickr. Some rights reserved

The Guardian has updated its editorial code for the first time in four years, bringing in enhanced guidelines on privacy in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal.

A review of the Guardian's editorial code, first published in 2002, began several months ago, according to a column by readers' editor Chris Elliot.

The result is 12 new and updated sections covering professional practice.

This includes a section on privacy, which Elliot said required a "careful look" at in light of the phone-hacking scandal.

In a bid to strengthen the code, the Guardian built in five principles as drawn up by Sir David Omand, the former head of security and intelligence at the Cabinet Office.

"In keeping with both the PCC code and the Human Rights Act we believe in respecting people's privacy," the guidelines state.

"Much journalism may be intrinsically intrusive but we should avoid invading anyone's privacy unless there is a clear public interest in doing so. Proportionality is essential, as is proper prior consideration where privacy issues may be involved."

Based on Omand's principles the guidelines (quoted directly below) outline five points to observe when considering intruding on privacy:
  • There must be sufficient cause – the intrusion needs to be justified by the scale of potential harm that might result from it.
  • There must be integrity of motive – the intrusion must be justified in terms of the public good that would follow from publication.
  • The methods used must be in proportion to the seriousness of story and its public interest, using the minimum possible intrusion.
  • There must be proper authority – any intrusion must be authorised at a sufficiently senior level and with appropriate oversight.
  • There must be a reasonable prospect of success; fishing expeditions are not justified
Elliot adds that while the PCC code does form part of staff journalists' contract of employment the papers' editorial code does not, instead it is considered a set of practical guidelines.

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