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Panpa Bulletin : September 2006
September 2006 PANPA BULLETIN | 15 NEWS Awoman's magazine cover presenting gossip in teaser headlines as though it was fact got the editor into trouble and divided the New Zealand Press Council. The core of Trina Stevens' complaint about the Wom a n's Day cover of November 7, 2005, was two large headlines, "POSH pregnant AGAIN!" superimposed over a photograph of Victoria Beckham, and "JEN'S PREGNANT!" over a photograph of Jennifer Aniston. The latter was accompanied by a circle enclosing the words, "SHOCK BABY NEWS". Stevens said the cover headlines did not ac- curately or fairly convey the substance of the articles carried within the magazine. Stevens further complained that Wo man's Day misled the public by not making a sufficient distinc- tion between what was fact and what was conjecture. The article about Posh Beckham made it clear, said Stevens, that Beckham's "preg- nancy" was speculation, not fact. Also open- ing lines of the article about Jen Aniston said, "Speculation is rising that Jennifer Aniston is pregnant ...", although the headline with the article said, "JEN'S JOY" and "I'm having a baby". The Woman's Day editor submitted that to uphold the complaint would undermine not only freedom of expression but also the "fun and gentle escapism" that consumers expect from magazines like Woman's Day. To uphold the complaint, the editor said, would create a chilling effect. The editor said that magazine staff should be able to choose punctuation unconstrained by a pedantic approach, such as using ques- tion marks rather than exclamation marks in the headlines complained of. Freedom of expression, said the editor, was neither served nor advanced by requiring women's magazines to engage in a prolonged assessment over which forms of punctua tion might best be employed for headline or captions calling attention to sensationa stories about celebrities. The editor also said the magazine did not set out to deliberately mislead or misinform anyone. The Press Council, in a seven to four de- cision, upheld the complaint. The council said it did not wish to deny the Woman's Day readers enjoyment of the magazine's mix of gossip, rumour and speculation about the private and public lives of celeb- rities by taking an unduly narrow or heavy- handed approach. The Press Council majority upheld free- dom of expression and accepted that a publication dealing with escapist stories about celebrities might be given some- what more latitude. "Further it accepts that headline and caption writers must be given licence to be inventive in their choice of language. At the same time, it is the view of the ma- jority of the council that it would be alto- gether too much licence to allow publi- cations to fabricate claims which are not confirmed by the copy." The majority of the Press Council did not accept the argument by the editor that the substitution of question marks for exclama- tion marks on the magazine's cover was mere- ly a matter of grammar or punctuation. "The issue was fundamentally a simple one," the majority said. "The magazine, as any publication, has a responsibility in its cover teasers and headlines not to mislead readers about the content found inside its pages." The dissenters said that they did not uphold the complaint because: The magazine dealt in gossip. Readers of the magazine should know that gos- sip might not be true and could often be misleading The front page teasers stretched the limits but that was their intention, to tease read- ers into buying the magazine. The "facts" emerged in the entire package The Press Council's Statement of Principles on the need for accuracy of headings struck difficulties with magazines that dealt in gossip In such circumstances to hold the com- plaint was to judge the magazine articles and cover teasers on a credibility they nei- ther deserved nor sought. The minority of the Press Council said they were not prepared to apply an acid test of ac- curacy when the magazine's intent was a diet of gossip and escapism and, in the minority's view, not necessarily the facts. • • • • Gossip gets its day in court The Press Council, in a seven to four decision, upheld the complaint... and accepted that a publication dealing with escapist stories about celebrities might be given somewhat more latitude Victoria Beckham s pregnancy -- speculation or fact? Pics: AAP Image
November December 2006