Ruling

00253-17 A woman v That’s Life

    • Date complaint received

      20th July 2017

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of adjudication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 00253-17 A woman v That’s Life

Summary of complaint

1. A woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that That’s Life breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “No genitals! Baby was neither boy nor girl”, published on 19 January 2017.

2. The article was the complainant’s first-person account of her pregnancy. It was reported that she suffered complications throughout her pregnancy and that her son was born prematurely under a cesarean section. It was also reported that doctors were unable to confirm the sex of her son until he was four months old. The article reported that he suffered from hydrops fetalis, which caused extensive swelling around his body and the swelling of his sex organs in the womb. It was also reported that when he was one month old, an endocrinologist confirmed that he had male genitals in place, and that when he was four months old, a chromosome and genetics expert confirmed that he was male.

3. The complainant said that the headline was inaccurate because her son was not born with “no genitals”. She said that due to the swelling around his body, consultants said that they thought they could see male genitals, but would wait until he was in a more stable condition before tests were carried out to confirm this. The complainant also said that the article was inaccurate because it reported that during a pre-natal scan, the sonographer said that her son had “extensive swelling around the body”. The complainant said that she was only informed of this once he had been born. Further, the complainant said that the article was inaccurate because it reported that her contractions began when she was twenty-eight weeks pregnant and that a doctor said “it’s time to get the baby out”. The complainant said that the correct position was that she went to hospital with tightenings and had three contractions the following day, when she underwent an emergency cesarean section.

4. The publication said that any ambiguity surrounding the headline was made clear in the article. It said that it accurately summarised the position in the article, that no genitals could be seen on the complainant’s son, which left her in a position of not knowing whether her son was a male or a female. The publication also said that they took care to ensure that the complainant’s story was represented accurately. It said that a thorough interview was conducted with the complainant, and the story was read back to her three times until the article was approved by the complainant. It noted that the final version of the article, which was read to the complainant, contained the quotes which the complainant has disputed.

Relevant Code Provisions

5.Clause 1 (Accuracy)

i.The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.

ii. A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.

iii. A fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies should be given, when reasonably called for.

iv. The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.

v. A publication must report fairly and accurately the outcome of an action for defamation to which it has been a party, unless an agreed settlement states otherwise, or an agreed statement is published.

Findings of the Committee

6. Given the sensitivity of the story, which was a first-person account of the complainant’s pregnancy and the birth of her child, particular care should have been taken to accurately summarise the story on the front page of the magazine.

7. The complainant’s son had been born with a condition which had caused his genitals to swell so that when he was born, doctors could not determine whether he was male or female. It was not the case that he had been born with “no genitals”, as stated on the front cover. This inaccuracy had been compounded by the sub-headline, which read “Baby was neither boy nor girl”.

8. The Committee acknowledged that the magazine had taken care over the accuracy of the article itself, which made clear the nature of the child’s condition; however, this had been undermined by its failure to accurately summarise the story on the front page. The headline was not supported by the text. Given the sensitive subject matter, this represented a serious breach of Clause 1 (i).

9. The inaccuracy had given a significantly misleading impression of the child’s condition, and it had misrepresented the way in which the complainant had told her story. The magazine’s failure to offer to publish a correction was a breach of Clause 1 (ii).

10. The magazine had interviewed the complainant three times and it had received her approval for the final draft of the article. While the Committee acknowledged the complainant’s concerns that the article itself inaccurately reported comments made to her by the sonographer, and the circumstances surrounding her son’s birth, the Committee was satisfied that the publication had taken sufficient care over the accuracy of this information. In circumstances where it is not disputed that the complainant had a caesarean section following contractions, and that she was told that her son had “extensive swelling” around his body, the Committee did not consider that the article was significantly inaccurate on these points. There was no breach of Clause 1 on these aspects of the complaint.

Conclusions

11. The complaint was upheld.

Remedial action required

12. Having upheld the complaint, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required.

13. The magazine had published a significantly inaccurate headline, which was not supported by the article, and it had failed to comply with the obligations of Clause 1(ii) by offering to publish a correction. In those circumstances, the Committee would generally require the publication of an upheld adjudication. The complainant confirmed to IPSO in correspondence that she did not wish for any further information to be published in the magazine, which related to her son. The Committee noted that the article related to private, medical details of a young child, which would be referenced in any published adjudication. In those particular circumstances, and having considered the nature of the breach it had established and the complainant’s request, the Committee concluded that it was not appropriate to require the publication of an upheld adjudication. No further action was required.

Date complaint received: 13/01/2017
Date decision issued: 14/06/2017