NMA Calls For New ICO Journalism Guidance To Protect Freedom Of Expression

New guidance on data protection and journalism being drawn up by the Information Commissioner’s Office must be “practical, workable” and respect the right to freedom of expression “which underpins press freedom and the practice of journalism,” the News Media Association has said.  

The NMA warned that consultation with the industry was essential when drawing up the new guidance, as required by the Data Protection Act 2018, to avoid creating “new layers of discretionary regulation and new legal restrictions on the media which would fetter freedom of expression rights.

Listing the various protections for freedom of expression from Parliament and the courts, the NMA added: “They have also set strict limits on the remit of the ICO, particularly in respect of any pre-publication powers. These crucial freedom of expression and information rights and press freedom safeguards must not be undermined.

“Great care must be taken to ensure that the code drawn up by the ICO on compliance with data protection legislation or recommendation of ‘good practice’, does not directly or indirectly extend the remit of the ICO and the application of data protection controls and sanctions, counter to press freedom and the right to freedom of expression and information.” 

The NMA said it would support using current guidance ‘Data protection and journalism: a guide for the media’ as the basis for the new journalism code but stressed the importance of consulting the industry.

The NMA said that the new guidance should recognise the wider application of the public’s right to freedom of expression and information and protect the ability of whistleblowers to give information to journalists.

“Any practical guidance must take due account of the scope and speed of news gathering, publication and dissemination and the realities of news operations. Small local newspapers do not have tiers of journalists, editors and lawyers to whom editorial decisions are deferred and processes documented.

“It is very important that any new code does not stipulate new or onerous process requirements, which, in practice, all too easily might result in heavy ICO or court sanction of a news organization, not for breach of the law or Editors’ Code of Practice, but merely for some failure to record its decision-making.”

In response to a separate ICO consultation, the NMA warned last week that  the Age Appropriate Design draft code  could “wreak havoc” on news media.

The NMA said: “There is surely no justification for the ICO to attempt by way of a statutory age appropriate design code, to impose access restrictions fettering adults (and children’s) ability to receive and impart information, or in effect impose ‘pre watershed’ broadcast controls upon the content of all currently  publicly available, free to use, national, regional and local news websites, already compliant with the general law and editorial and advertising codes of practice upheld by IPSO and the ASA.”