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Data Protection And Journalism: Consultation On Draft Guide For The Media

Announcement of Consultation on Draft Guidance

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has published draft guidance on the journalism exemption in section 32 of Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA). It is aimed not only at journalists and editors but also at managers in media organisations. The ICO has also opened a public consultation on the draft guidance.

In addition, having held a workshop in September 2013 the ICO with hold further workshops with key media and non-media stakeholder groups during February 2014.

The publication follows on from the recommendations of the Leveson Inquiry.

Journalism Exemption

The exemption under section 32 DPA applies to information obtained, recorded or held with a view to publication. Having regard to the special importance of the public interest in freedom of expression, the person or company in control of the information must reasonably believe that publication would be in the public interest and that compliance is incompatible with the special purpose of journalism.

In these circumstances, compliance will not be required with the most of the data protection principles.

Extracts from the Draft Guidance

The draft guidance sets out, at section 4, how the journalism exemption may apply to public interest stories. It summarises good practice measures and also clarifies the role of the ICO. Some key points to note for media organisations include:

  • The journalism exemption covers the entire output of the print and broadcast media (apart from paid-for advertising) and hence includes entertainment as well as journalism.
  • The exemption provides a kind of ‘public interest’ defence to apparent breaches of the DPA, but the law does not provide a blanket exemption and each case must be considered on its own merits.
  • If you can comply with the DPA, you must. The exemption only applies if you would not otherwise be able to do your job in relation to a public interest story.
  • ‘Public interest’: whilst the ICO acknowledges that there will always be some public interest in freedom of expression, it does not consider that alone to justify a publication which involves a significant intrusion into someone’s privacy.
  • ‘Reasonable belief’: there must be a corporate (not individual) decision that the story is in the public interest. The ICO is likely to accept that there was reasonable belief of public interest if there had been editorial involvement from an early stage; a public interest check was carried out; and the relevant industry codes have been followed.


The deadline for responses to the consultation is 22 April 2014.

For more information please contact Jason Saiban, Partner

T: +44 (0)20 7203 5170