Facebook Not A Source Say Newspaper Regulators

Dennis Faas's picture

The body which regulates British newspapers is considering guidelines to restrict journalists from using social networking profiles as sources. It follows increasing complaints from people who have become the subject of stories and find details from sites such as Facebook included in newspaper articles.

Tim Toulin, director of the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), said "It's down to the PCC to set the boundaries in a common sense way about what sort of information it is acceptable to re-publish".

The PCC is an industry body made up of newspaper editors and independent representatives which sets down voluntary guidelines on how journalists can operate. Because all newspapers follow its rulings, there is no government regulation of newspapers (beyond legal issues such as libel and restrictions on court reporting).

As part of its investigation, the PCC is conducting market research to find out whether the public are aware newspapers can use details from their sites, and if knowing this changes their attitudes about using social networking.

The debate has been fuelled by a spate of suicides in a small British town, prompting some journalists to use social networking sites to find links between the youngsters who took their own lives. There are claims that journalists posed as youths on the sites to try to eek out further details.

Some journalists have countered that using online profiles to gather background information may be less intrusive than 'doorstepping', the practice of visiting people's houses uninvited to ask questions. It has also been argued that any information on a profile is already in the public domain. (Source: bbc.co.uk)

However, the BBC (which produces television, radio and online news) has told its staff to think carefully before using such details. The editor of the BBC's online news pointed out that publishing a story on the BBC site would attract "significantly greater public attention" than the original profile. (Source: journalism.co.uk)

Regardless of the PCC's regulations, social networking sites may wind up as the subject of a legal debate. It's still not clear whether reprinting a photograph from a site is considered fair use under copyright laws.

Rate this article: 
No votes yet