Press Council confirms gossip mags are given leeway for ‘factual exaggeration and inaccuracies’

The Press Council has said readers of gossip magazines don’t “necessarily assum[e] that everything presented is factual”, and therefore leeway should be granted for “factual exaggeration and inaccuracies”.

The comments came as part of a ruling against Woman’s Day, which breached Press Council rules in a May 2019 headline about the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

The front cover headline – ‘Palace confirms the marriage is over! Why Harry was left with no choice but to end it’ – led to a page 12 article titled ‘This is the final straw! Bombshell revelations about Meghan push a distraught Harry to breaking point’.

The front cover at the centre of the complaint and ruling

The Bauer masthead contended that the headline met the rules because readers expect “a level of exaggeration in coverlines and headlines”, and it would be “unreasonable” to hold gossip magazines to the same standard as other news outlets.

A similar complaint could be made of almost every issue of every celebrity magazine, Woman’s Day said, and click-bait headlines are common. The magazine added that nobody referred to within the article, nor their representatives, had complained.

However, the Council disagreed with this defence, deciding that the headline stretched beyond acceptable exaggeration and was instead “blatantly incorrect” and unsupported by the article itself.

“The Council also acknowledges that the reasonable steps required to be accurate and not misleading in an article concerning royalty or celebrities can, depending on the circumstances, be different to those required in respect of other persons, particularly those who are not usually in the public eye,” it said in its ruling.

“While an entertainment publication can be expected to use some exaggeration, the headline was expressed as an unqualified fact that the Palace had confirmed the marriage was over. The Council considers that the statement in the headline was such that it was more than just an exaggeration, and that it was misleading.”

However, the Council conceded, it was reasonable for the Bauer title to not publish a correction or response during the complaints process, seeing as the Palace itself did not make a complaint.

Bauer’s purchase of rival Pacific Magazines is still pending ACCC approval, with the watchdog voicing concerns on how the acquisition could impact the viability of weekly titles including Woman’s Day and the quality of its content.

Both Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have commenced legal proceedings against UK tabloids for alleged phone hacking and breach of privacy. Last month, the Duke and Duchess stepped away from the Royal Family and implemented a new media policy which will short-circuit the tabloids’ access to the pair, and instead allow them to respond to media enquiries as they wish.


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