Ruling

04338-18 Welch v Woman’s Own

    • Date complaint received

      9th October 2018

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of correction

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee: 04338-18 Welch v Woman’s Own

Summary of complaint

1. Denise Welch complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Woman’s Own breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “DIVA DENISE/Denise’s DIVA demands!”, published on 2 July 2018.

2. The article was trailed on the front page under the headline “DIVA DENISE”, with the sub-headlines “Shock demands” and “Why the Loose Women don’t want her back”. It continued on pages 6 and 7, under the headline “Denise’s DIVA demands!”. Both the front page and inside pages featured photographs of the complainant.

3. The article reported that the complainant had returned to the panel of the television show Loose Women after an absence of five years, but had “a long list of requests if the show’s producers want her back for good”. It said that a “source close to the star” had revealed that “’Denise has made it quite clear that she is back in control and won’t be outdone by celebrity guests’”. The article went on to say that the complainant was “eyeing up a permanent spot on the panel”, but that this would come “with a big set of terms and conditions”. The source was quoted as stating that the complainant “’won’t tolerate working with certain people, particularly the reality star types that have been featured on the show over the years’”.

4. The article then went on to list other issues it said the complainant had expressed concerns about in relation to a return to the show. The source was quoted as stating that “’the harsh studio lighting is also something that Denise feels should changes’”, and that “’she wants a pay rise…and a solid contract in place’”. The article said that any return to the show would “ruffle a few feathers” among the regular panellists. It quoted the source as saying that “’Denise has made all sorts of demands – so much so that, at this point, some of the Loose ladies don’t even want her back full time’”.

5. The complainant said that the article was significantly inaccurate in a number of ways, in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy). Specifically, it was untrue to state that she had made ‘Diva-like’ demands, a “long list of demands” or “a big set of terms and conditions”; to state that she “won’t be outdone by celebrity guests” or “tolerate working with certain people”; to state that “pay, airtime and studio lighting” were potential issues with any return; and to state that she had asked for “more money” or a “solid contract”, or a change to “harsh studio lighting”. The complainant provided an email from a representative of the broadcaster behind the show stating that the story was “completely false”, and a further email which denied that the complainant had made any “demands”. The complainant was also concerned that no attempt had been made to contact her or her representatives prior to publication, in order to verify the accuracy of the story or provide a right of reply. She therefore felt that the publication had failed to take any care over the accuracy of the story.

6. The publication denied that it had failed to take sufficient care over the accuracy of the piece. It said that the source for the story had been used a number of times previously and had consistently provided accurate information; the journalist had understood, based on these previous encounters, that the source was privy to information regarding the TV show on which the complainant appeared. The publication did not consider that it was necessary to contact the complainant, given that the source had been reliable in the past, and did not consider that that failing to seek comment from her represented a failure to take care over the accuracy of the piece.

7. Although it did not consider that it had failed to take care over the accuracy of the article, having received communications from the television channel in relation to the claims made, the publication did accept that it had published inaccurate information. It also accepted that in relying on information from an anonymous source it was unable to demonstrate the veracity of the story. It therefore offered to publish the following correction on page 3 of the publication:

APOLOGY AND CORRECTION: An article in the 2 July edition of Woman Magazine regarding Denise Welch contained inaccurate statements. By way of correction and clarification we would like to make it clear that Denise has made no unreasonable or ‘Diva’ type demands regarding a return to Loose Women. It is not correct that Denise has made any demands regarding contracts, increased payments, other celebrity guests, airtime or studio lighting. In addition, any suggestion that the Loose Women producers do not want Denise back is also incorrect. We apologise for the distress that our article caused.

The publication denied that a front page reference to this correction was appropriate: front pages are a means for editors to convey the main news stories of the week, and the publication of a front page reference would be an interference with this. It said that such a reference should only be required in the most serious cases, and the offered prominence was sufficient remedy in this instance.

8. The complainant said that a page 3 correction was insufficient. It said that the incorrect information had been featured on the front page, and the story had been totally false; readers who didn’t read the inside article would therefore still have been given a misleading impression.

Relevant Code Provisions

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.

Clause 14 (Confidential sources)

Journalists have a moral obligation to protect confidential sources of information.

Findings of the Committee

9. Publications are entitled to make use of anonymous sources, and to protect their identity in line with their obligations under Clause 14 (Confidential sources). However, in this instance, the publication had not taken any further steps to verify the source’s claims – for instance, by obtaining on-the-record corroboration or by seeking the complainant’s comment before publication. In these circumstances, the magazine had not been able to demonstrate that it had taken care over the accuracy of the article; the result was a breach of Clause 1 (i). This was compounded by two factors: the high degree of prominence given to the claims, and their adoption as fact by the publication. The claim that the complainant had acted as a “diva” making “shock demands” appeared on the front cover. The article had attributed a number of claims regarding the alleged “demands” to a source, but the front cover trail, article headline and initial paragraphs adopted the claims as fact and used them as the basis for characterising the complainant as a “diva”.

10. Following publication, the complainant and the broadcaster had denied the claims, and the publication had conceded that it could not support them. As these claims formed the crux of the article, and had been trailed prominently, they were plainly significant; these were also claims that cast serious aspersions on the complainant’s professionalism and attitude to her work. The claims had been accepted to be inaccurate, and therefore required correction in order to avoid a breach of Clause 1(ii).

11. The Committee considered that the wording of the correction offered, which had been accepted by the complainant, was sufficient: it corrected the inaccuracies within the article. It had also been offered within 10 days of the publication being contacted by the complainant. The claims made about the complainant were highly personal, and cast aspersions on her personal and professional behaviour; in these circumstances, it was appropriate and necessary for the magazine to offer an apology, and it had done so. However, the cover trail for the article had featured information the publication conceded it could not support and had offered to correct, and the article was clearly trailed as the main feature in the issue, taking up a considerable portion of the cover. The claims which the publication had offered to correct had formed a substantial part of the article, and it had been unable to provide verification to support these claims. In these circumstances, a correction on page 3 was not sufficiently prominent; failing to offer a sufficiently prominent correction represented a breach of Clause 1(ii).

Conclusions

12. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1(i) and Clause 1(ii).

Remedial action required

13. Having upheld a breach of Clause 1, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required.

14. The publication had printed an article the accuracy of which it could not defend; it had failed to take steps to verify the account of an anonymous source; and it had offered a correction with insufficient prominence to address the inaccuracies conceded in the story. This represented a serious breach of Clause 1. In these circumstances, the Committee considered whether the publication of an adjudication or of the offered correction was the appropriate remedy. The offered correction made the true position clear, and included an apology in the words of the publication, which the complainant had accepted was adequate (while disputing the prominence offered). In these circumstances, the appropriate remedy was the publication of the correction and apology offered by the publication, with a front cover reference to this apology.

15. The Committee decided that the correction and apology itself should be published on page 3 as offered by the publication, in the font size standard for that page (including an appropriate headline font size), and should make clear that it had been published following a decision of the Independent Press Standards Organisation. It should be surrounded by a border to distinguish it from other content on that page. The cover reference to the correction and apology should appear in the same font size as the cover sub-headline on the article under complaint (“Why the Loose Women don’t want her back”), and should make clear that a complaint had been upheld in relation to an article about the complainant. The text of this reference should be agreed with IPSO in advance.

Date complaint received: 10/07/2018

Date decision issued: 12/09/2018