GRANT HANNIS AGAINST WOMAN'S DAY

Case Number: 2477

Council Meeting: DECEMBER 2015

Verdict: Upheld with Dissent

Publication: null

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Balance, Lack Of
Errors, Apology and Correction Sought
Misleading
Misrepresentation, Deception or Subterfuge
Unfair Coverage

Overview

Grant Hannis complained about an article published in the Woman’s Day October 5, 2015.

He said that the article breached Principle 1 (Accuracy, Fairness and Balance) of the New Zealand Press Council Statement of Principles.

The complaint is upheld by a majority 6:3.

Background

The article was headed Reinventing Rachel. My secrets to staying in shape and was about Rachel Hunter, a New Zealand model. It was also a headline item on the cover of the magazine with the headlineRachel reveals all – How I got my body back.

The article outlined changes that Ms Hunter had made in her life and included comments Ms Hunter had supposedly made along with an overview of a television programme that Ms Hunter had been involved in called “Rachel Hunter’s Tour of Beauty”.

The article was attributed to Fleur Fitzpatrick/FEATS with pictures by Richard McLaren/Australscope.

The Complaint

Dr Hannis alleged that in his opinion the text on the front cover and the article itself purported to be an interview the magazine had conducted with Ms Hunter. The article included comments attributed to Ms Hunter which strengthened the impression that the magazine had itself interviewed Ms Hunter when it had not.

He included information published on Stuff where Ms Hunter stated that she had not been interviewed byWoman’s Day.

The complainant did not accept the magazine’s assertion that the writer and Agency were clearly credited in the magazine and he believed that regardless of where the article was sourced from, the magazine was responsible for what it published and should have published an apology and correction when parts of the article were disproven by comments from Ms Hunter.

The Response

Sido Kitchin, the editor, maintained that Principle 1 (accuracy, fairness and balance) had not been breached. While the article was subsequently found to have used outdated quotes,Woman’s Day was not aware of this when it purchased and published the story.

The rights to publish the article had been purchased from a reputable freelance agency, FEAT, and the magazine had relied on FEAT’s reputation and standard practices that the story was written from official interviews and sources. The magazine was also assured by FEAT that the story was written from official interviews and sources and the magazine had no reason to doubt such assurances.

Both the writer and FEAT were credited in the magazine and the magazine did not make any claim in the publication that the story was an official nor exclusive interview.

The editor stated that readers of Woman’s Day are attuned to the fact that articles in the magazine are often speculative and conditional

Ms Hunter herself has not made any complaint regarding the article but the broadcaster of the television show, “Rachel Hunter’s Tour of Beauty”, did inform the magazine that they were pleased with the article.

The Decision

While the magazine did not label the article as an interview and the writer and photographer are cited beside the article, the test is, would a reasonable reader think this was an actual interview and the answer is yes. The cover photo and headline,Rachel reveals all. How I got my body back, also led readers to believe it was a genuine interview and the information in it was current.

The article was clearly written in a way that led readers to believe that the writer had conducted an interview with Rachel Hunter by the use of speech marks and direct quotes when in fact the material was likely to have been pieced together from a variety of sources, including previously published interviews etc.

In earlier decisions the Council has extended a degree of latitude to “woman’s magazines” because of the genre. However, the majority of the Council considered in this instance the article went too far. It was deliberately written and presented in a way that would lead even readers of this genre to believe it was an actual interview with Rachel Hunter. The majority considered that even in the context of such magazines that is a breach of our principles. Further, it was a unanimous view of the Council that a publication could not avoid responsibility because it had accessed the article from a reputable and attributed source. The responsibility remains with the editor.

The complaint is upheld.

Dissent

This was a majority decision as three members of the Press Council felt that given the genre of the publication, a habitual reader of that type of magazine would have understood that the article was not necessarily an actual interview, came from multiple sources and that the magazine was a publication based on gossip and speculation including the use of sensational and exaggerated headlines.

Press Council members considering the complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Sandy Gill, Peter Fa’afiu, John Roughan, Marie Shroff, Vernon Small, Mark Stevens and Tim Watkin.

Sandy Gill, Vernon Small and Tim Watkin dissented from the decision.