Ruling

09326-21 Kennedy v Real People

    • Date complaint received

      5th May 2022

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 4 Intrusion into grief or shock

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 09326-21 Kennedy v Real People

Summary of Complaint

1. Jennifer Kennedy complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Real People breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Va-Va-Boom!”, published on 12th August 2021.

2. The magazine article was a first-person account of the complainant’s relationship with her husband and their experience of having children. It described the complainant’s future husband as “a colleague at the [sports] club” she worked at and reported that he had decided to undergo a vasectomy reversal. The article went on to state that the complainant had said that “the reversal in August 2016 was unsuccessful. Peter’s little soldiers had been out of action for 15 years and their exit route couldn’t be reopened. Instead, docs took some of Peter’s sperm with a needle so we could try IVF”. It went on to state that their “third round [of IVF] ended in a chemical pregnancy, the fourth in a miscarriage”, but that “[they] decided to try for a fifth and final round. This time they put two embryos back”. The article said that the complainant’s Nana had “told anyone who would listen” that “‘Jen’s having twins’”, and described how the complainant and her husband had discovered they were having twins. It went on to state that the complainant’s Nana had passed away. The article described the complainant’s experience of pregnancy: “[i]t wasn’t plain sailing. I’d had precancerous cells removed from my cervix years ago, so had to keep my feet up a lot to ease the strain”. The article next detailed the complainant’s birth of her children, stating that after the birth of the first twin, she had said “the next thing I knew I was being taken in for a C-section”. The article reported that “[t]he last time Peter had looked after twins it was the ’80s. Car seats were unheard of and a nip of whisky in a bottle did a teething baby good”.

3. The complainant said that the article contained a number of inaccuracies in breach of Clause 1, and that she had raised concerns about a number of these during a phone call where the proposed article was read back to her. She said that it was inaccurate to describe her husband as having been her colleague, as they had never worked together, and he was in fact a member at the club she worked at. She also said that it was inaccurate to state that “'Peter's little soldiers had been out of action for 15 years”, as tests had been conducted on her husband’s sperm and no issues had been discovered; the complainant added that she had been assured this would be removed during the phone call. The complainant said that the chronology of the article was also inaccurate as it had described a chemical pregnancy and miscarriage as occurring after her and her husband got married, whereas these had in fact occurred before their marriage. In addition, she said that the quote “[w]e decided to try for a fifth and final round. This time they put two embryos back” gave the inaccurate impression that this was the only time two embryos had been put in, whereas this also happened during the fourth round. The complainant further said that the article was inaccurate to describe her Nana as having “told anyone who would listen” that she was having twins, as her Nana had told two relatives, but not anyone who would listen.

4. The complainant also said that it was inaccurate to state that the last time her husband had looked after twins in the 1980s, “[c]ar seats were unheard of and a nip of whisky in a bottle did a teething baby good”, as her husband would never have done anything like that. She also said that the quote “[i]t wasn’t plain sailing. I’d had precancerous cells removed from my cervix years ago, so had to keep my feet up a lot to ease the strain” did not explain the extent of the complications and risks she had faced during her pregnancy. Finally, the complainant said that it was inaccurate to state that she had been “taken in” for a C-section for the birth of her second child as she was already in theatre having had her first child there.

5. The complainant also said the article had breached Clause 4; she considered the story had mocked her family and had not been handled with sensitivity, particularly in relation to her husband’s vasectomy, their baby losses, and her Nana’s death.

6. The publication did not accept that there had been a breach of the Code. It said that it takes care with the accuracy of its articles, conducting readbacks (a telephone call in which the proposed copy is read to the subject of the story, to give them an opportunity to raise concerns), and making any necessary amendments that are raised. During the investigation, the publication provided a transcript of the readback and a copy of the senior writer’s notes from this call. The publication accepted that it had, due to human error, not amended the word “colleague” in the article, which the complainant had raised as an inaccuracy during the readback. While it accepted this was inaccurate, the publication did not accept that it constituted a significant inaccuracy. The publication further said that it did not consider it inaccurate to state that “[t]his time they put two embryos back” in relation to their final round of IVF and that it was not intended to imply that this was the only time the complainant had had two embryos implanted. While this was the case, it accepted that during the readback the senior writer had confirmed they would alter this sentence, however this had not been done. Regarding the complainant’s concerns that the phrase “taken in” suggested she had been taken into theatre between the birth of the first and second child, the publication acknowledged that this implied the complainant was not in theatre for the first birth. It accepted that this was inaccurate, however did not consider it was a significant inaccuracy.

7. The publication did not accept that the quote “’Peter's little soldiers had been out of action for 15 years” suggested that there were any issues with the complainant’s husband’s sperm and that when the sentence was read in full: “the reversal in August 2016 was unsuccessful. Peter’s little soldiers had been out of action for 15 years and their exit route couldn’t be reopened. Instead, docs took some of Peter’s sperm with a needle so we could try IVF”, it made clear that it was describing the effects of a vasectomy.

8. The publication further said that the complainant had not raised any concerns regarding the chronology of events during the readback, nor the concerns about inaccurately reporting what her Nana had said; the quote that “[t]he last time Peter had looked after twins it was the ’80s. Car seats were unheard of and a nip of whisky in a bottle did a teething baby good”; or the line that “I’d had precancerous cells removed from my cervix years ago, so had to keep my feet up a lot to ease the strain”.

9. With regard to Clause 4, the publication expressed its disappointment that the complainant did not consider the story was handled sensitively, but it did not consider there was a breach of Clause 4.

10. Whilst the publication did not accept a breach of the Editors’ Code, it offered to publish the following correction of the “Mum to Mum” page of its next issue, together with a promotion of the Twins Trust charity, in order to resolve the complaint:

In edition no. 34 of Real People, dated 26/8/21, we published an article entitled “Va Va Voom” about Jennifer and Peter Kennedy, their experience with IVF treatment, and the subsequent birth of their twins, Lily and Henry.

We would like to make the following clarifications:

- The article stated that, during the 4th round of Jennifer’s IVF, “This time they put two embryos back”. We would like to clarify that this was not the only time they implanted two embryos. This happened during the 3 rd round of IVF too.

- On the birth of the twins, the article stated “Then another 33 minutes ticked by with no second baby. The next thing I knew I was being taken in for a C-section”. We would like to clarify that Jennifer was already in theatre during the birth of her first child, and that she was prepared for a C-section rather than taken into theatre at this point.

11. The complainant did not consider the offer was adequate to resolve her complaint.

12. Subsequent to this offer, Real People magazine closed down, but the publication made a revised offer to resolve the complaint. It offered to publish a short piece in a sister magazine promoting the Twins Trust charity, along with the option of adding a comment from the complainant relating to her own experience.

13. The complainant also did not consider this further offer was sufficient to resolve her complaint.

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 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock)

In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively. These provisions should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings.

Findings of the Committee

14. The Committee first recognised the distress caused by the article, particularly as it related to a very personal experience the complainant had faced. It recognised that the complainant considered the article to be mocking and that she found it upsetting, however, it was mindful that the Code does not cover issues of taste and offence: newspapers are free to publish information as they see fit as long as the Editors’ Code is not otherwise breached. While the Committee acknowledged the complainant’s concerns, its role was to consider if the actions of the newspaper had breached the terms of the Clauses of the Code cited by the complainant.

15. The publication accepted that during the readback, the complainant had highlighted that it was incorrect to refer to her husband as a “colleague”, and that she had raised concerns regarding the phrase “[t]his time they put two embryos back”; the senior writer had confirmed these aspects of the article would be amended, but the publication said that, due to human error, this was not done. It further accepted that the phrase “taken in” inaccurately suggested that the complainant was taken into theatre between the birth of the first and second twin. The Committee acknowledged that the matters under complaint related to the complainant’s personal experience of IVF and childbirth, a clearly sensitive subject, and was concerned that the inaccuracies raised by the complainant during the readback had not been amended. It did however acknowledge the publication’s efforts to correct the inaccuracies once made aware of them. While it recognised that these points were of significance to the complainant, it did not consider that the inaccuracies regarding the description of her husband as her colleague, and that she had been “taken in” for a C-section were significant in the context of the overall article, in circumstances where the article had correctly described where the complainant had met her husband, and where it was not in dispute that her second child had been born via C-section. Additionally, the Committee did not consider stating that “[t]his time they put two embryos back” necessarily gave the impression that this only occurred during the fifth round of IVF and, again, in the context of the article as a whole, where two embryos had indeed been implanted during the final round of IVF, this was not significant. There was no breach of Clause 1 on these points.

16. The Committee next considered the complainant’s concerns that the article had suggested that there had been problems with her husband’s fertility, which was not the case. The article made clear that it was discussing the effects of a vasectomy, by stating that “the reversal in August 2016 was unsuccessful” and that “[i]nstead, docs took some of Peter’s sperm with a needle so we could try IVF”. The Committee did not consider the quote inaccurately suggested there had been any concerns about the complainant’s husband’s sperm, and there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

17. The complainant had also expressed concerns about the quote “[i]t wasn’t plain sailing. I’d had precancerous cells removed from my cervix years ago, so had to keep my feet up a lot to ease the strain” as she considered it did not explain the full extent of the risks she faced during her pregnancy. While the Committee acknowledged the complainant’s concerns, it did not consider that omitting reference to the full extent of the risks the complainant faced rendered the article inaccurate or misleading, particularly where it was not in dispute that the removal of the precancerous cells meant the complainant had to “keep [her] feet up”, and where the complainant had not raised this in the readback. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

18. The Committee next turned to the complainant’s concerns that the article had inaccurately described a chemical pregnancy and miscarriage as having occurred after her and her husband’s marriage; that her Nana had “told anyone who would listen” that she was having twins; and that “[c]ar seats were unheard of and a nip of whisky in a bottle did a teething baby good”. It was the Committee’s view that the publication had taken care over these points by including this information in the readback, and the complainant had not raised concerns regarding these points at that stage. While the Committee understood the complainant’s concerns regarding the chronology of the chemical pregnancy and miscarriage, it did not consider whether these had occurred before or after marriage was significant in the context of the article. It also did not consider it was significantly inaccurate to describe her Nana as having “told anyone who would listen”, where it was not in dispute that she had told some relatives. Finally, it was the Committee’s view that it was not significantly inaccurate to state that the last time the complainant’s husband had looked after twins “[c]ar seats were unheard of and a nip of whisky in a bottle did a teething baby good”. It considered that in the context of the article, this was a comment to illustrate the period of time that had passed since the complainant’s husband had last looked after children and how childcare practices had changed during that time, rather than a claim that the complainant’s husband had engaged in these practices himself. There was no breach of Clause 1 on these points.

19. The Committee understood that the complainant had found the article upsetting, however, it did not consider that the article reported on the complainant’s husband’s vasectomy in a manner that was insensitive. The Committee understood that the complainant found it insensitive to refer to her husband’s vasectomy in a joking manner, however it was the Committee’s view that this was the style of the magazine, and not done in an unsympathetic manner. Additionally, while the article included information about the complainant’s baby losses and the loss of her grandmother, the Committee noted that the complainant had voluntarily disclosed this information to the magazine for the purposes of publication. The publication of the article was handled sensitively within the meaning of Clause 4. There was no breach of this Clause.

Conclusion(s)

20. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

21. N/A


Date complaint received: 19/08/2021

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 14/04/2022