The UK Press Complaints Commission found that UK magazine Heat broke the PCC code with its story “Fazer told me he didn’t have a girlfriend – then we kissed.” Interestingly, the PCC noted its ruling was based not on being able to find out the factual accounting of events, but rather on Heat’s actions in reporting the story, which the PCC wrote exhibited a “failure to take care not to publish inaccurate or misleading information.”
The story claimed that musician Richard Rawson (Fazer) “‘cheated’ on his girlfriend at the time,” based on “an interview with a woman” who claimed Rawson cheated with, along with photos of the night in question but not of the alleged cheating. Rawson denied her claims, but did acknowledge having “danced with the woman.”
Interstingly, the PCC reported that it “was unable to reconcile the conflicting versions of events provided by the complainant and the publication,” but since the PCC said Heat couldn’t “provide direct corroborating evidence of the kiss, such as a photograph,” and since Heat didn’t contact Rawson before publication, the magazine violated the code’s standard on accuracy.
We asked the PCC if it’s rare for its accuracy cases to result in being “unable” to find the facts of the story and instead have the PCC examine cases based on the publication’s’ actions in verification. The PCC’s Catherine Speller told iMediaEthics:
“Obviously each case is considered by the Commission on its merits. The Commission has previously made clear that although there is not a specific requirement in the Code to contact those who feature in a published article on every occasion, where specific allegations are at stake, publications will often need to do so in order to test their veracity or obtain alternative versions of events.”
She also directed us to “two other adjudications” — “Burrell v News of the World (2008) and Antoniou v Woman (2011).” See our November 2011 report on the Antoniou case, when the PCC ruled UK magazine Woman “should have gone to the complainant” for comment before publishing an article.
The PCC noted that it rejected Rawson’s complaint that the magazine violated his privacy by publishing photos of him since it was a “press night.”
The PCC’s Speller told iMediaEthics that Heat only had to publish the “text of the PCC’s critical adjudication in full, and with due prominence.”
We wrote in May when Heat apologized for invading Kate Middleton’s privacy by publishing a photo of her shopping. Last November, Heat apologized for publishing information from a fake Facebook profile.
UPDATE: 8/16/2012 10:29 AM EST: We’ve heard back from Heat. Jess Blake, the “head of PR” at Heat magazine’s publisher Bauer Media sent us the company’s statement on the PCC ruling. It reads, in full:
“Bauer Media can confirm that heat magazine received a complaint, via the Press Complaints Commission, from Mr Richard Rawson (also known as ‘Fazer’).
“The complaint related to a story entitled “Exclusive: Fazer cheated on Tulisa with me”, published in the issue dated 11-17 February 2012.
“The PCC adjudication rejected Mr Rawson’s complaint that it had breached Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Editor’s Code of Practice. However, the PCC found heat had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of Code because it had not contacted Mr Rawson for a comment in advance of publication. In line with the requirements of the PCC, heat magazine has printed the adjudication in full in this week’s issue.
“heat magazine maintains that it acted in accordance with the Editor’s Code of Practice in its treatment of the story and has registered its surprise and disappointment with the PCC at the decision to uphold Mr Rawson’s complaint, including the basis on which the adjudication seems to have been reached.
“heat stands by the accuracy of its story and remains committed to following the Editor’s Code of Practice. “