CHRISTINE HEATHERBELL-BROWN AGAINST WOMAN'S DAY
Case Number: 2339
Council Meeting: AUGUST 2013
Verdict: Not Upheld with Dissent
Publication: Woman's Day
Comment and Fact
Headlines and Captions
Misrepresentation, Deception or Subterfuge
The page 14 article canvassed relationship issues, past and present, of celebrity couple Katy Perry and Robert Pattison. The paragraph to which the coverline referred said “Casually dressed in hoodies and big sunglasses, the pair were seen in the main courtyard of the exclusive San Ysidro Ranch in Montecito, Santa Barbara, watching the wedding rehearsal of a fellow guest. “They were just sitting quietly and talking” a relative of the bride and groom reports.”
Ms Heatherbell-Brown said that the cover of the magazine deliberately misled readers about the content of the article to which it referred.
The article made clear that Robert Pattison (“R-Patz”) and Katy Perry had been observing the wedding rehearsal of a fellow guest at a resort. There was no suggestion that they were contemplating their own wedding.
There was no shock wedding relating to them and the word “shock” was not even mentioned in the article. The normal reader would take it to mean R-Patz and Katy were getting married or had got married. She saw this as a dishonest ploy to sell more magazines.
She noted that the possible headline R-Patz and Katy watch wedding rehearsal contained only one more word but reflected the true nature of the article.
She cited Principles of Accuracy, Fairness and Balance; Comment and Fact; Headlines and Captions; Subterfuge.
Legal counsel for Bauer Media, publishers of Woman’s Day, replied on behalf of the editor. She denied that any Press Council principles had been breached by the cover line.
She asserted that Principles 4 (Comment and fact) and 8 (Subterfuge) were not relevant to this complaint. No subterfuge had been used in accessing the information, nor had the article confused comment and fact.
She maintained that Principles 1 (Accuracy, fairness and balance) and 5 (Headlines and captions) had not been breached, as the article referred to a rumoured romance between the two parties, who had arrived at a wedding rehearsal to which they were not invited. This surprised other invited guests, hence the headline “wedding shock’, which was ‘wholly appropriate’. She suggested that a lengthier teaser on the front cover was ‘not a realistic proposition’.
The magazine also cited Press Council complaints 1060 and 2123 against Woman’s Day in defending the cover line. She stated that the current complaint differs from Case 1060 as it is a reasonable summary of the surprise of people involved, at the presence of Rob Pattison and Katy Perry. Case 2123 mentioned the reputation that the magazine has for dealing in celebrity gossip, and that readers would be aware of this.
The Council does not believe that Principles 1, 4 or 8 have been breached. The main nub of the complaint is Principle 5, Headlines and Captions.
The complainant was obviously expecting a story about the possible impending nuptials of ‘R-Patz’ and Katy, and continued to maintain, in her final response, that the headline was misleading. She stated that “Woman's Day knew this cover line would sell more magazines for them than if the cover line read R-Patz and Katy watch Wedding Rehearsal. I have only put in one more word and the cover line now reflects the true nature of the article.”
The Preamble to the Council’s Statement of Principles acknowledges that ‘the genre or purpose of a publication or article, for example, satire or gossip, calls for special consideration in any complaint’.
The article is clearly a gossip article and needs to be regarded as such. Gossip by its very nature may be inaccurate and/or exaggerated, and the headline must be considered in this context. It is difficult to believe that readers of this type of publication are unfamiliar with the practice of writing ‘teaser’ headlines that draw shocking or surprising inferences from fairly mundane facts, or that readers are likely to be misled by them.
While recognising that the teaser on the cover, as Ms Heatherbell-Brown read it, might have been construed as misleading, the Council accepts that there could be ambiguity in the situation described in the article. However, this clearly indicated that a casually-dressed Pattison and Perry were ‘watching the rehearsal of a fellow guest’ in the main courtyard of a resort in Santa Barbara where they appeared to be staying. They were described as ‘sitting quietly and talking’. The article made no reference to shock or even surprise by the others present. It is drawing a long bow to describe the situation as ‘shocking’ to anybody, but it is the type of terminology used by magazines of this genre.
As a minority opinion in the 1060 case put it, “If Woman’s Day is misleading its readers, they are accepting of the risk of being misled.” In this case a majority of the Press Council shared that view. The complaint is not upheld with Professor Tim Beaglehole dissenting.
Press Council members considering this complaint were Sir John Hansen, Tim Beaglehole, Liz Brown, Pip Bruce Ferguson, Kate Coughlan, Peter Fa’afiu, Sandy Gill, Penny Harding, Clive Lind, John Roughan and Stephen Stewart.