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  1. Media Law
May 23, 2016updated 25 May 2016 10:01am

Prince Harry loses IPSO complaint against Daily Mail over its report of ‘completely untrue’ Pippa romance story

By Dominic Ponsford

Prince Harry has had complaints against the Daily Mail and Mail Online about coverage of his love life rejected by press regulator IPSO.

Last week the press regulator ordered the Daily Star to publish a critical adjudication on pages one and three over a story headlined: “Harry and Pippa ‘secret romance’”.

The Daily Star was censured by IPSO partly because it provided no evidence that it had gone to the royal family for a comment about the story which quoted a report in US-based OK! magazine.

The Daily Mail report, published on 10 December 2015, was headlined: “Harry and Pippa in love says US magazine”.

In noted the magazine said the pair were in “a budding romance”.  And it also reported the  “extraordinary allegations that the Duchess of Cambridge found her sister and brother-in-law ‘snogging in a bathroom’ at the royal wedding”.

The Mail story concluded by stating that the Palace had yet to comment on the claims, but that it “though it may not bother” as the US magazine had a “history of ‘revealing’ celebrity couplings hotly denied by those involved”.

Harry told the PCC that the Mail had repeated claims that were “completely untrue”, and that the title had failed to corroborate the facts before publication.

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He also noted that the Mail had republished OK! magazine’s front page (pictured), which showed an image that had been doctored to give the appearance that Harry had been partially clothed on a beach with Miss Middleton. There was no mention made of the fact that the image had been altered.

Harry said that even though the story was false, it was still a breach of his privacy – in particular because of its sexual content.

The Mail said its article was a report about an article, and noted that it contained seven references to the fact that these were claims made by the magazine.

It said that whereas Mail Online, which covered the story separately, had sought a comment from Harry’s representative before publication – the journalist working on the print edition had not.

It said it had offered to publish a clarification stating: “Prince Harry’s spokesman has since confirmed for the record there is no truth whatsoever in the magazine’s story”.

Rejecting the complaint, IPSO said: “The newspaper had taken care to ensure that the claims were reported with due scepticism…

“The newspaper had published the article in the knowledge that Kensington Palace had no intention of commenting on the story. However, the article had emphasised that the newspaper attached no credence to the claims, and it alerted readers to the fact that there were good reasons to doubt their accuracy.”

It said there was no breach of privacy because the the claims had already been published by a magazine with a circulation of 4.4 million readers.

The Mail Online version of the story was headlined: “American tabloid OK! claims ‘Prince Harry and Pippa Middleton are enjoying a secret romance’ after ‘snogging in a bathroom at the royal wedding in 2011’”.

Harry said that the publication had requested Kensington Palace’s response to the claims at 3.30pm on 9 December.  He said that at 4.48pm, the Palace responded and clarified that the claims were a “complete fiction”, and that they should not be repeated.

The story went online at 4.41pm, before it had received the Palace’s comments. Harry said he considered that the approach for comment had been “entirely perfunctory” and a failure to provide a fair opportunity to reply.

Mail Online said its  US office had contacted Kensington Palace for comment before the article was published, but said it was not obliged to wait for a response before publishing the piece.

It said that the Palace’s initial response was not that it had not described the claims as “a complete fiction” but that it had said that the US magazine “regularly reports complete fiction like this” and that the Palace had not read the article.

Mail Online said it had emailed the Palace a second time, 29 minutes after publication, and was told there were “no circumstances where we would provide a comment for a story like that”.

Mail Online told IPSO that “the Palace could not determine what it could report”, adding that “it was inappropriate for the Palace to respond to claims by issuing denials with a refusal to confirm them on the record”.

And it asked why “the public should be prevented from being informed that the claims made in the magazine were wrong”.

The complaint against Mail Online was also rejected.

The Mail Online story has not been updated to reflect Prince Harry’s denials.

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