The Australian Press Council has taken the unusual step of suggesting weekly magazines, such as Woman’s Day, should trade in facts and truth. Amazing!

This week, the industry watchdog ruled that a screaming Woman’s Day cover, “Palace confirms the marriage is over! Why Harry was left with no choice but to end it,” had breached industry standards.

You can read the full judgement here. But parts of it are such a beautiful exercise in restraint we thought it would benefit from being decoded.

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What the Press Council said: The Council acknowledges that celebrity and gossip magazines are purchased for light entertainment, with readers not necessarily assuming that everything presented is factual. 

Decoded: The council acknowledges readers know what they’re getting from a celeb mag: a cheap laugh, a white lie and brief distraction from reality.

Accordingly, some latitude is given for factual exaggeration and inaccuracies in publications of this kind. 

We’d go broke very quickly if we tried to hold celebrity magazines to the same standards as other publications — so we let a lot slide.

The Council also acknowledges that the reasonable steps required to be accurate and not misleading in an article concerning royalty or celebrities can, depending on the circumstances, be different to those required in respect of other persons, particularly those who are not usually in the public eye.

And in your defence, it’s not like the Queen is going to reply to your emails, so fact-checking is a little different in the celebrity magazine world.

However, in this case the headline made a statement that was blatantly incorrect and not supported by the article’s contents.

But you’re at least supposed to “pretend” there’s an element of truth.

While an entertainment publication can be expected to use some exaggeration, the headline was expressed as an unqualified fact that the Palace had confirmed the marriage was over. The Council considers that the statement in the headline was such that it was more than just an exaggeration, and that it was misleading. 

Exaggeration is to paint a snake and add legs, the saying goes. But in this case, you painted a snake and added legs, arms, a moustache and a second head.

Accordingly, General Principle 1 and 3 were breached. Given the arguments available to the publication about the application of the Council’s Standards and that the Palace did not make a complaint to the Press Council, it was reasonable for it to not publish a correction or response during the Council’s complaints process and there was no breach of General Principles 2 or 4.

The Royals didn’t care enough about your publication to lodge a complaint, so we won’t worry that you didn’t publish a correction. But you still broke our rules, so next time, make sure there’s at least a half-truth in there.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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