Decision of the Complaints Committee 11939-15 HRH Prince Henry of Wales v Daily Mail
Summary of complaint
1. HRH Prince Henry of Wales complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Mail breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply) and Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Harry and Pippa in love says US magazine”, published on 10 December 2015.
2. The article reported that a magazine, published in the US, had claimed that the complainant and Pippa Middleton were in “a budding romance”. It said that the magazine had made “extraordinary allegations that the Duchess of Cambridge found her sister and brother-in-law ‘snogging in a bathroom’ at the royal wedding”. It said that the magazine had “breathlessly” claimed that there had always been “sexual tension” between the pair, but now that they were single they were “free to act on their mutual attraction”. The piece concluded by stating that the Palace had yet to comment on the claims, “though it may not bother” as the US magazine had a “history of ‘revealing’ celebrity couplings hotly denied by those involved”.
3. The complainant said that the newspaper had repeated claims made in a US magazine that were “completely untrue”, and that the newspaper had failed to corroborate the facts before publication. He noted that the article had called the claims “extraordinary” but considered that it had not asserted categorically that they were false. He argued that the newspaper could not justify the publication of inaccurate information simply by attributing it to a third party. As the US magazine was not considered to be a reliable source of information in the US, and the newspaper had attached no credence to the claims, it should not have repeated them. In addition, it had republished the magazine’s front page, which showed an image of him that had been doctored to give the appearance that he had been partially clothed on a beach with Ms Middleton; there was no mention of the fact that the image had been altered.
4. The complainant said that despite the falsity of the claims, the story had concerned private – in particular sexual – information about which he had a reasonable expectation of privacy. He did not accept that this expectation had been reduced because the claims had already been published by a magazine with a limited hard-copy circulation in the US. In contrast, this newspaper had circulated the claims in the UK and worldwide, and numerous publications had followed suit. The complainant requested the removal of the online article and a prominent apology.
5. The newspaper said that its article had made clear that it was not an account of a relationship between the complainant and Ms Middleton; it was a report about an article, which had appeared in a prominent US magazine. It noted that its piece had contained seven references – including in its headline – to the fact that these were claims made by the magazine. It noted that its piece had also said that the magazine had no substantiation for the claims and that they had not been confirmed or commented on by the complainant’s representatives.
6. The newspaper said that Mail Online had covered the story separately, and the website’s journalist had sought comment from the complainant’s representatives before publication. That opportunity had not been taken, and this had been reflected in the newspaper’s article. It rejected the complainant’s position that Mail Online had been told that the claims were a “complete fiction”. In fact, the complainant’s representative had said that they had not read the US article, but that the magazine “regularly reports complete fiction like this”. Following publication of the Mail Online article, a member of the website’s staff had offered to publish the Palace’s response to it, but had been told that there were “no circumstances where we would provide comment for a story like that”.
7. The newspaper did not consider that it was acceptable for Kensington Palace to dictate what it could report. It said that it was also unacceptable for the Palace to respond to claims by issuing denials, which it refused to confirm on the record, thereby making the denials unreportable. Had a denial been issued, the newspaper would have published it.
8. The newspaper said that it had reported claims made by a magazine with a readership of 4.4 million; the allegations were clearly already in the public domain. It also argued that the fact of a relationship between two unmarried individuals was not private, particularly when one of those individuals was a senior member of the royal family; the relationship between the complainant and Ms Middleton had been the subject of widespread comment since the royal wedding.
9. The newspaper did not accept any inaccuracies and therefore it did not consider that an opportunity to reply was required. It said it would be happy, however, to publish a follow-up article or the following wording in the Corrections & Clarifications column on page two:
In common with many other publications and global digital news sites, on December 10 we reported that a major American magazine had claimed there was a relationship between Prince Harry and Pippa Middleton. Our article was clearly sceptical about the veracity of the magazine’s claims. We are also happy to make clear that Prince Harry’s spokesman has since confirmed for the record there is no truth whatsoever in the magazine’s story.
Relevant Code provisions
10. Clause 1 (Accuracy)
i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.
ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and - where appropriate - an apology published. In cases involving the Regulator, prominence should be agreed with the Regulator in advance.
iii) The Press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply)
A fair opportunity for reply to inaccuracies must be given when reasonably called for.
Clause 3 (Privacy)
i) Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence, including digital communications.
ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent. Account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information.
Findings of the Committee
11. These were unsubstantiated claims, which were reported as such. The newspaper had taken care to ensure that the claims were reported with due scepticism. For instance, the first line of the article had said “it all sounds rather too much like a plot dreamed up in a Hollywood movie”; the second line had described the claims as “extraordinary allegations”; and the final line had said that the US magazine had a “history” of reporting claims about celebrity relationships that were “hotly denied”.
12. The newspaper had published the article in the knowledge that Kensington Palace had no intention of commenting on the story. However, the article had emphasised that the newspaper attached no credence to the claims, and it alerted readers to the fact that there were good reasons to doubt their accuracy. In such circumstances, there was no failure to take care over the accuracy of the article in breach of Clause 1(i). The article was not significantly misleading in breach of Clause 1(ii).
13. It was clear that the “doctored” image formed part of the cover of the US magazine, and where doubt was cast on the truth of its claims, the republication of the cover was not significantly misleading. The complaint under Clause 1 was not upheld.
14. The claims made about the complainant and Ms Middleton had the potential to intrude into his private life. The terms of Clause 3 were engaged, regardless of the accuracy of the allegations.
15. The article, however, had clearly suggested that the claims were not to be believed. The fact that the newspaper was clearly dismissive of the speculation, and the tone it had adopted in the piece, diminished any intrusive effect that the speculation may have had. Furthermore, the claims had already been published by a magazine with a circulation of 4.4 million readers. The level of intrusion did not amount to a breach of Clause 3. The complaint under Clause 3 was not upheld.
16. The terms of Clause 2 provide people with the opportunity to reply to published inaccuracies. No inaccuracies had been established by the Committee, and the complainant had not requested an opportunity to reply. There was no breach of Clause 2.
17. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial action required
Date complaint received:
Date decision issued: 25/04/2016