Self-regulation of unlawful newsgathering techniques

Damian Carney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

87 Downloads (Pure)


The PCC's self-regulation regime is presupposed on journalists' and publications' adherence to its Code of Practice. In the last two years, concerns have been raised about the effectiveness of the Code in preventing journalists from obtaining personal information through illegal means. In 2006, the Information Commissioner suggested that journalists were major buyers of information illicitly obtained in contravention of the Data Protection Act 1998, whilst the conviction of the former News of the World royal editor, Clive Goodman, for his involvement in a conspiracy to bug Prince William's voicemail (contrary to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000) also suggested that journalists were willing to break the law to obtain news stories. Whilst the PCC's Code of Practice does permit the use of such techniques if they can be justified in the ‘public interest’, neither of the aforementioned acts gives journalists such a defence although some journalists believe there is a ‘public interest’ defence at law. However, if there was a genuine public interest in using these methods, such as the revelation of serious crime, then the prosecuting authorities may decide not to prosecute. The use of both newsgathering techniques was scrutinized in the aftermath of Goodwin's conviction, by both the PCC, and the House of Commons' Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sports. The PCC revised its Code as a result and also issued recommendations as to internal controls that journals should put in place to minimise such activities. This article will examine the evolution of the PCC's Code of Practice in relation to these forms of newsgathering prior to 2006 which will provide a context in which to examine both data trading and the Clive Goodman case. It also helps to explain why the PCC felt it necessary to strengthen its Code and make the recommendations it did in the aftermath of these events. The article ends with an analysis of these changes and a discussion of how the tripartite system of controlling newsgathering activities (law, self-regulation and internal controls of publications) can be used successfully to minimise widespread and unjustified illegal actions by journalists.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)76-81
Number of pages6
JournalCommunications Law
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2008


Dive into the research topics of 'Self-regulation of unlawful newsgathering techniques'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this