It is important to us that we get things right. Our commitment to high standards is embodied in our company Code of Conduct, which is set out in full below. This Code applies to all members of our editorial staff, as well as freelancers who work for us, and our business partners.
In the event that we get something wrong, we would like to know about it. As such, for any feedback or complaints about editorial material – either in print or online – or about the conduct of our journalists in the course of their work, please contact our complaints and customer service team using the link to the Complaint Form below. If you have any queries about the complaints process please email the managing editor on ([email protected]).
Before making your complaint it may help to read the answers to some frequently asked questions, as they might deal with the matter you want to raise – please click here.
To lodge a complaint please complete the form available here. If you include any sensitive information in your complaint (e.g. about your health, sex life, ethnicity, political opinions, religious beliefs or criminal convictions), by clicking the ‘submit’ button you give your explicit consent for us to use that information in connection with investigating your complaint as set out in our Privacy Notice.
To send a letter for publication please email [email protected].
Information about advertising can be found here: https://www.independentadvertising.com.
You can also contact us by telephone on 020 3367 7000 or in writing, to: The Independent, Northcliffe House, 2 Derry Street, Kensington, London W8 5HF.
Code of Editorial Conduct
INTRODUCTION AND SCOPE
The reputation of our brands is based on the editorial independence, integrity and high journalistic standards of our output.
The rules set out here are intended to apply to all our content wherever it is published (including our apps and social media channels), unless it is stated otherwise. You must follow these rules even when they set a ‘higher bar’ than other external regulations unless you have specific approval to the contrary from a senior executive.
The Editorial provisions of the Code are applicable to all employees, workers, and contributors to the Independent’s publications, whether contracted or freelance or otherwise commissioned. While individuals take personal responsibility for their own compliance, managers should also ensure this Code is understood and complied with by employees, workers and contributors in their own areas. If managers believe that they or those working for them have insufficient knowledge about the legal and regulatory environment within which they work, they must contact the managing editor.
In addition to this Code, you must adhere to the general law and any other external regulations as required - notably the Editors’ Code.
If you have any queries about relevant regulations or legal matters, please contact the managing editor or seek legal advice, as appropriate.
The public interest
Breaking rules can sometimes be justified where there is a legitimate ‘public interest’ in publishing a story. This can include such things as detecting or exposing crime or impropriety, protecting the security of the general public and preventing people and communities from being misled by the behaviour of another individual or organisation. The public interest is not, of course, the same thing as ‘being interesting to the public’. Context is vital to making judgements about what might be in the public interest.
With regard to the law, it is no defence to certain criminal offences (e.g. phone-hacking) that any resulting story would be in the public interest. In other areas of the law (for instance, data protection), the public interest might be a factor but you should seek legal advice if you believe that your journalistic activity may result in a breach of any legislation.
If you believe that publication of a story might breach this Code or industry best practice but has a public interest justification, you should discuss the terms of that justification as precisely as possible with your line manager and, if necessary, with other senior editorial executives. You should make an email note of such discussions at the earliest opportunity, although the company recognises that in some instances you may need to write up the notes after publication. If in doubt, speak in the first instance to your line manager. If you are planning an undercover investigation (i.e. any investigation where you are deliberately hiding the fact that you are a journalist) you should always seek prior approval from the managing editor, bearing in mind the information in this Code below.
PREPARING FOR PUBLICATION
Pre-publication editorial and legal clearance
You must fully cooperate with the editors in the area you are working in or for, and undertake whatever pre-publication checks and research are requested by those editors or by the company’s legal advisers or other relevant executives.
Legal claims can be hugely expensive as well as damaging to The Independent’s reputation. To be in the best position to defend a claim or complaint it is important that the people involved in preparation and publication of the story ensure that:
- their pre-publication conduct is beyond reproach;
- they use their best efforts to get all the facts right;
- they do the necessary research and;
- they seek a response from the subject of an article if appropriate (see below).
Always ask for advice about any specific issues you are not sure about. Also, be mindful of the need to remain up to date with all information provided on legal and compliance subjects, and make sure you familiarise yourself with legal warnings and other notices that have been issued.
It is your duty to raise, in a full and frank manner and making full disclosure, any issues that could have a bearing on whether publication of any material you are involved in complies with all legal and regulatory requirements, as well as any issues to do with staff conduct.
If in doubt about regulatory matters please contact your line manager or the managing editor.
Identifying yourself and dealing with the public
In the course of your work you will speak to a great many people. In all but exceptional circumstances (see below), you should be upfront about the fact you are a journalist and you must always identify who you are and who you work for when asked, unless there are public interest reasons for not doing so.
You must not intimidate or harass individuals nor engage in persistent physical pursuit. If you are asked to stop questioning, contacting, filming or photographing someone you must do so. Public interest exemptions can apply in this area but they are relatively rare. In the first instance you should consult your line manager if there is any complaint about your conduct (more information about what to do if someone makes a complaint is set out below).
The same rules apply when contacting somebody via email or social media that apply in relation to face-to-face meetings and phone conversations: if someone says they don’t want to be contacted further, you should stop.
In cases involving grief, you must conduct your enquiries with particular sympathy and discretion. If you plan to approach somebody who is in hospital (or any medical or care institution) you are likely to require consent from the hospital’s authorities before doing so. You must not approach children at school without the consent of parents and the school authorities.
If an investigative story or any allegation of wrongdoing depends on the word of a single source you should try and get it corroborated by at least one other, unconnected and trustworthy source. In some circumstances you will need to formalise the evidence that you have obtained from a key source (eg by preparing a witness statement). You may in such cases need to seek legal advice.
If a source needs to remain confidential you should ensure that they cannot be identified – directly or indirectly – from your notes, or any data on your mobile phone or other device.
You should be cautious how you use the internet or social media to obtain material for a story, both in terms of trustworthiness of the information or identification, and also the rights over the material (eg copyright).
From the point of view of rights ownership, you should bear in mind that what you see online, including on social media, is not free for use just because it is free to view. So, not only must you consider questions of accuracy and privacy, you should also assess whether material can lawfully be reproduced or even drawn on without the consent of the rights holder and whether re-use of that material may carry a fee. In any event, you must always attribute content as fully as possible so that readers know its origins.
Consider too whether material – especially from social media or from historic sources – might constitute contempt of court in relation to current, ongoing legal proceedings.
Dealings with children
There is no blanket prohibition on journalists talking to children or on using what they say for publication. However, you must not – unless there is an exceptional public interest – speak to a child under 16 on any subject that touches on his/her, or another child’s, welfare (that is, probably, any personal issue) without the consent of whoever has legal custody of the child. It is usually not adequate to rely on consent from a teacher, a non-custodial parent or other family member, e.g. grandparent.
If in doubt, ask a child how old they are and get confirmation if you are still unsure. The onus is on you to establish an accurate age.
If you have any uncertainty about the public interest requirements or any other matter, do talk to your department head and then, as appropriate, the managing editor, or another senior executive.
Putting the story to the subject
It is a keystone of responsible journalism that you endeavour to put any potentially critical or damaging reference to the subject before publication. This ensures that the subject is given the opportunity to point out any errors in a story as well as to comment on it so that their position can be reflected in the article in the interests of fairness. The more serious the allegation, the more important it is to provide the subject with a proper opportunity to respond. There may be exceptions – for example, when reporting on court proceedings or where the subject has indicated they do not wish to be contacted by the media. If you are unsure whether it is necessary to invite comment, you should consider the matter with your department head (or another senior executive) and seek legal advice.
In all but exceptional circumstances, you should send a request in which you set out each allegation and give the subject an adequate amount of time to respond (sometimes it may be useful to send a repeat request). Always try to be realistic in your requests, bearing in mind the possibility that different time-zones and weekend/evening availability may have an impact on a subject’s ability to respond. And make sure you are as specific as possible in the questions you ask.
Note-taking and record-keeping
You should where possible make detailed notes or keep other contemporaneous records of pre-publication conversations or exchanges, and these should be retained, bearing in mind that you may have to produce them as evidence in court.
It is acceptable to audio-record key telephone conversations with people to whom you have identified yourself as a journalist provided you only use the recording as a background aid in place of or in addition to handwritten notes. If you intend to publish the recording you must make that clear at the outset and obtain consent (note: subterfuge, and its public interest justifications, is dealt with below).
If you have obtained material online, it is important that you retain copies of all relevant pages, tweets, pictures, posts or video downloads. Since information can easily be deleted or taken offline, you should take screen-grabs of any material that could be contentious or disputed.
Use of freelance journalists and due diligence procedures
When commissioning material from a freelance individual or entity, for example an outside investigative company, you should take steps to consider whether their track-record suggests they are professional, reliable and trustworthy.
If you are in any doubt, refer the issue to your department head. Any freelance you intend to use should be directed to this Code of Conduct and to the External Contributors Policy on our website, with which they are required to comply.
Payments for information/sources
We do not pay individuals or agencies for information about third parties that could breach their rights. However, there are exceptional circumstances when it could theoretically be acceptable, where the story would be in the public interest. If you are considering paying a source for such information you must fill in an Approval Form (from the managing editor), and submit it for approval to your line manager and the managing editor.
Parents should not be paid for information involving their child’s welfare, unless payment can be shown genuinely to be in the child’s interest.
In line with industry best practice there can be no payments or promises of payment to witnesses in criminal trials; there can be no payments to those who might reasonably be expected to be witnesses in future trials unless there is a public interest; and there can be no payments to convicted criminals or their associates for any material relating to their crime, unless there are exceptional circumstances (in which case you must discuss the case with your line manager and the managing editor).
Crucially, you must be aware that any payment to a police officer or public official will breach the law without exemption.
Subterfuge and the use of improper or illegal journalistic methods
No one should break the criminal law in their work for The Independent.
Anyone engaging in any form of deception for journalistic purposes (and this includes where they do not make it clear they are a journalist when making enquiries) should seek approval in advance by completing an Approval Form available from the managing editor or head of legal. It is important that this happens at an early stage in order that a proper record of the decision-making process is made which can be produced subsequently if necessary.
The form should be completed after discussion with your department head and the managing editor, if possible before you embark on any sort of undercover investigation, no matter how apparently insubstantial. Failure to get advance approval could lead to non-compliance with the company’s Code or a tainting of crucial legal evidence.
If you genuinely did not have an opportunity to seek approval in advance, or an external journalist or entity has come to us with evidence obtained through subterfuge, you must refer it urgently to your department head and the managing editor so that the situation can be properly assessed.
Conflicts of Interest
You should be transparent about any outside political, philosophical, religious or financial interests that might conflict with your journalistic independence or integrity, or could be perceived to do so. You should declare an interest before publication to your department head when you are working on anything with which you have a significant connection. The desk head should then decide whether a declaration should appear in any relevant article, referring the matter to the managing editor as appropriate. For more information see the Conflicts of Interest Policy.
Even where the law may permit it, our journalists – whatever their status: employed, contracted, freelance or any other – should never use for their own profit financial information they receive in the course of their work before such information is published, nor should they pass such information to others. You must inform your department head of any significant interest in any shares or securities that you know you or your close family/ associates hold before writing or broadcasting about such shares or securities. You must not buy or sell, directly or through nominees or agents, shares or securities about which you have written recently or intend to write or which you have discussed in broadcast material.
If anyone writing about financial information is concerned about a potential conflict of interest, they must raise their concerns immediately with their department head. There are special rules for those working on business and city desks whereby journalists must ensure that an accurate and updated record is kept by the managing editor of all relevant investments and interests.
Confidentiality and other agreements
If you are presented with a confidentiality agreement – a book or speech embargo for example – you must pass it to your desk head and, where appropriate, discuss the matter with the managing editor or the head of legal. Signature of such an agreement might bind not only your desk, but you and the company. You should not sign it or take on such a commitment without consulting whether that is in The Independent’s interests.
If you agree with a content provider that our use of a story, picture or video material should be restricted, either in terms of our initial publication or our syndication or exploitation of it, then you should inform the syndication department.
We do not set out to offend the general reader or viewer and you should always consider how people will respond to our material.
That is not to say that we should shy away from publication simply for fear that it might provoke a negative reaction in some quarters.
It is our primary endeavour to publish information that is accurate and will not mislead readers. You must take care not to distort information either by disingenuous phrasing or by omission.
We should take care to distinguish comment and opinion from fact.
If you think that material has been published that is inaccurate, you should notify your line manager and the managing editor. It may be necessary to take corrective action, but you should not generally proceed without discussion.
All substantial material and quotes should be attributed correctly (ie. by author and/or by title of the publication), whatever the source of such material, including another media outlet, agency, writer or journalist. Sources should be identified unless their security or a prior agreement of confidentiality dictates otherwise. The principle is to be transparent. Images should, similarly, be appropriately captioned. If you have sourced comments from social media or other websites you should take care to ensure that you do not present the material as if it has been provided as part of an interview. And remember that there may be a cost attached to re-using material whether you attribute it properly or not.
Quotes – direct and anonymous
If quoting someone directly, you should generally use their exact words. If you do not want to use the way they have expressed something then, if it is editorially justified, you should not quote directly but paraphrase their words in indirect speech, taking care not to change the actual meaning.
You should exercise caution if you want to quote someone anonymously. Ask yourself what their motivation is if they are not prepared to go on the record, and whether an improper purpose could taint their reliability as a source (and thus make defending our published or broadcast material more difficult).
In order to ensure the integrity and independence of our editorial content we should not offer copy or picture approval to any subject. If this is the only way to secure an interview, approval must be sought in advance from your desk head or relevant senior executives.
Evidence suggests that media reporting of suicide can influence others who are suicidal or mentally fragile to take their own lives. When reporting suicide you should avoid excessive detail about the method used: information that amounts to a step-by-step guide will be too much. Care should also be taken not to glamorise suicide or its victims; and not perpetually to repeat details of past suicides at a particular place.
Victims of sexual assault
When reporting on stories involving sexual assault, the utmost care should be taken to avoid identifying the victim. Legally, victims (and alleged victims) have a right to anonymity. However, this is not just a question of omitting an individual’s name; any identifying details should be avoided. Remember, a seemingly innocuous detail may be very revealing to members of a local community. You should also be aware of the possibility of jigsaw identification, where a combination of small details – potentially from different sources – effectively identifies the victim. Remember, identifying a victim of a sex crime is in itself a criminal offence.
On occasion, an individual may waive their right to anonymity, or the court may permit the identification of the victim. In such circumstances, you should obtain clear evidence that consent has been granted before proceeding with publication in order to remove any possibility of confusion. Waivers of anonymity by a victim must be in writing. If in doubt, seek legal advice or contact the managing editor.
Under no circumstances should a child victim of sexual assault or witness in a sex case be identified. Again, be wary of what details you include in the report; if the case involves incest, you can either identify the defendant but ensure that there is no suggestion of their relation to the victim, or report the incestuous nature of the crime, but ensure the defendant is not identified. You should be cognisant of how other media have reported the case to guard against accidental jigsaw identification.
Care should be taken not to discriminate against people on the basis of, for instance, their sexual orientation, religion or race, or by virtue of an illness or disability. This means avoiding pejorative references to those aspects of their lives; but it also means not referring to these things at all unless they are relevant to the story.
Privacy – general provisions
We should avoid intrusions into people’s privacy: that is, reporting details about their personal lives unless there is a clear public interest in doing so. For example, you should take care if thinking about reporting: addresses (or identifying private homes directly or indirectly); medical information; and information obtained in personal communications including email or limited access social media. English law can be used to protect an individual’s privacy rights no matter where in the world that person is based.
In cases involving bereavement or shock, sensitivity and discretion are especially important, not only because of the personal impact on individuals but also because, in line with industry-wide guidelines, we do not permit any public interest justification for intruding into a person’s grief. We should not report gratuitous information about a person’s death or make light of genuine tragedies. Images of dead bodies (especially if the individual is identifiable) should be avoided unless there are exceptional circumstances, for instance in connection to reporting atrocities of war.
Journalists are not exempt from data protection laws. For example, you could commit a criminal offence if you obtain information unlawfully and you do not have a public interest justification. You must store personal data securely at all times and notify a data breach immediately (contact details are on the intranet). Please read our ‘data protection & journalism policy’ for more details and seek legal advice if you are unsure about anything.
Privacy – and pictures
Careful consideration should be given prior to publishing photographs or other content showing individuals in places where they have a ‘reasonable expectation of privacy’. This does not only refer to private property owned by the individual in question. Churches, cafes, places of work and hotels have all been regarded as places where there can be a reasonable expectation of privacy, and even public beaches. Each case must be judged on its merits - balancing the individual’s privacy rights against the public interest in publication. You should discuss with relevant senior executives, the managing editor or our legal advisers if in doubt.
If material is well-established in the public domain, that may over-ride the usual privacy protections. However, you must not work on the premise that a picture is automatically safe to use because you can access it publicly.
Privacy – pictures of children and vulnerable adults
Under-16s must not be photographed or filmed on subjects about their or other children’s welfare without the consent of their custodial parent/guardian. It is imperative that there is no room for debate about whether consent has been granted and you should always seek clarity before photographing/filming, if there is any doubt. This restriction, as well as the restriction on interviewing children on matters of their or other children’s welfare, carries over into publication. In essence, even if the information or pictures have not come directly from the child (e.g. they might have come from another person who knows them), we should consider whether their use without permission might infringe their privacy.
A public interest justification for breaching these requirements must be classed as ‘exceptional’. You should seek advice from your department head and, if appropriate, from the managing editor. You may also need to seek legal advice.
You must also be particularly careful not to do anything which could amount to taking advantage of vulnerable adults, which means those who are or may be in need of care services by reason of ‘mental or other disability, age or illness’ and who may be unable to protect themselves against ‘significant harm or exploitation’. If you are entering a non-public area of a hospital (or similar institution) you will need to obtain permission from a senior executive of the hospital, unless there is a public interest justification for not doing so.
Privacy – material from social media
Social media provides a wealth of information, some of which may legitimately be used by mainstream media. However, the internet can present an ethical vacuum and you should not assume that simply because something appears online it can be published by us. You must make a careful assessment of the veracity of information you find online – and of its apparent origins. For instance, can you be sure who uploaded the information: how do you prove that the person who apparently tweeted, commented or uploaded a photograph actually did so themselves?
It is also vital to consider whether republication in a major news outlet might invade someone’s privacy. Some of the things to consider in this regard are:
- What is the nature of the material (is it intrinsically private)?
- Who uploaded it and why? Did they intend that it be widely published?
- How widely has it been/can it be seen?
- Has that person waived their right to privacy in whole or as regards this particular aspect?
- Is there sufficient public interest to justify a possible invasion of privacy?
Remember that a person’s right to privacy is not automatically lost simply because material about them has circulated online to some degree.
Your use of social media
As a journalist employed by or associated with The Independent, material which you publish – for example, tweets, blogs, comments and images – helps us to gain exposure, audience and profile. However, there is potential for The Independent to suffer reputational and financial damage as a consequence of what you publish, even if you intend it only to be in a personal capacity. Despite the apparent informality and carefree feel of such online activities, they are publications in law and carry all the same implications.
If you have concerns about the conduct of another social media user towards you, please raise it immediately with your department head and, if appropriate, the managing editor.
See the Social Media and Online Activities Policy for more information.
Responsibility of editorial staff and contributors
It is the responsibility of every department head, but also everyone working for The Independent, whatever their status, to ensure that you follow up anything that might appear to you to be incorrect, even to a minor extent, or which raises any alarm bells from a legal or editorial point of view - whether or not you yourself are responsible for that material. You should pass any concerns to the managing editor or the head of legal, as appropriate.
If you receive any kind of complaint about a story you have been involved with, you should direct complainants to the online complaint form and in serious or urgent cases forward concerns directly to your department head and the managing editor as soon as possible. You should generally not make any response on your own initiative, however insignificant it might seem. If you indicate that a remedial course of action might be possible – which could include an apology or correction, promising a change to the online article, or running a letter – this could be construed as an admission of liability on behalf of The Independent. Hence, you should not do so without the express approval of the managing editor or the head of legal. You should co-operate fully with any investigations undertaken by the managing editor or the head of legal in response to such complaints, and make full disclosure of all information, including documentary evidence, in your possession or of which you are aware.
If we publish information that turns out to be inaccurate it is important that the position be corrected. Decisions about remedial action should be made in conjunction with the managing editor and, where appropriate, the head of legal.