A change to the harassment clause of the code will require journalists, in situations where harassment could become an issue, to identify themselves if requested to do so.
‘The harassment change is a good move for PROs representing clients in a crisis,' said PHA Media CEO Hall. ‘It means the target will now have the right to know who is quizzing or pursuing them.'
However, he added: ‘If a journalist refuses to identify themselves, in practice it will be difficult to complain to the PCC unless you can later find out who the culprit was.'
Other changes include the privacy clause, which has been amended to make clear that the PCC will take into account relevant previous disclosures made by the complainant. Finally, the public interest exceptions will include journalistic activity where editors can demonstrate a reasonable belief that they were acting in the public interest at the time.
Hall also added: ‘The privacy change will have a particular effect on celebrity reporting. The difficulty for PROs is the celebrity does not always volunteer private information. Journalists ask questions which at the time seem harmless, but now the answers from a celebrity could be deemed to forfeit their right to privacy in the future. It will lead to further suspicion and trepidation when high profile people are being interviewed and potentially make interviews duller through fear of repercussions later.'
However, former journalist and current Porter Novelli director of media Laurence Lee warned: ‘There will be plenty of PR people who would welcome greater restrictions on journalistic practices. But the extent to which the establishment is eroding journalists' most basic abilities to operate is deeply worrying. PR people rely on a free press as much as anyone else so it's no good saying journalists are the enemy.'