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July 31, 2015

That’s Life has accuracy complaint upheld after failing to show evidence of mother’s approval on first-person piece

By William Turvill

That's Life magazine has had an accuracy complaint upheld against it for a first-person feature which claimed a mother of three boys had risked her life to have a daughter.

The mother, Leanne Owens, complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the title had breached clauses one (accuracy), two (opportunity to reply) and five (intrusion into grief or shock) of the Editors' Code of Practice.

IPSO upheld the accuracy complaint after finding that the magazine could not prove Owens had given approval for the content of the first-person piece.

And the press regulator also said it could not find evidence in notes from the magazine's interview that she "had risked leaving her sons motherless by proceeding with her last pregnancy".

IPSO said: "The Committee did not find that the magazine had taken appropriate care over the accuracy of the article."

That's Life offered to print an apology on its letters page saying "doctors did not tell her that her life was at risk".

But IPSO ruled that this was not a sufficient remedy and ordered that the magazine publish the proposed apology on its first editorial page. The apology has been published on page two of the 6 August edition.

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The original story was published in the 16 October 2014 edition of the magazine.

Owens said that ahead of publication she was telephoned by a journalist working for the magazine who read the proposed article for approval. But Owens said she had repeatedly told the journalist she was in a doctor's surgery and so could not hear her clearly.

The complainant said she had promised the journalist she would call her back at another time but said she was told on three occasions that she was not available and left messages. Owens said her calls were not returned.

That's Life told IPSO the article was accurate and that its journalist had completed a read-back to Owens and did not recall being told she could not be heard properly.

The magazine said it was satisfied that the piece had been approved, but did not record the call. Further, the journalist's written record of the read-back was "not signed or dated".

Owens, the magazine said, originally sold her story to an agency, which had completed its own interview. That's Life said this had been approved by read-back, but the agency also could not provide recorded proof of this.

The magazine was able to provide notes on its interview with Owens, but IPSO said they "did not contain a reference to the complainant having placed her life in danger".

That's Life said " it had made every effort to publish a feature with which the complainant was happy: it had removed her surname and address, upon request, and changed the name of her partner".

Owens also complained that she had not been given the opportunity to reply and claimed she had been "tricked" into including her eldest son in photographs used by the magazine. These complaints were not upheld.

The apology That's Life has printed says: 

Last year we told the story of Leanne Owens whose unborn baby girl Seren helped to identify her breast cancer while she was pregnant. Leanne has asked us to make clear that when she was originally offered the chance to terminate the pregnancy, due to antiphospholipid syndrome, the doctors did not tell her that her life was at risk. In fact it was her unborn baby whose life was at risk. As such Leanne never felt that she risked leaving her sons without a mother when she decided to go ahead with the pregnancy. We are happy to make this clear and apologise for any distress caused by this misunderstanding."

IPSO said in its ruling: "It is of particular importance that a first-person piece is an accurate reflection of the experiences of the subject of the article, under whose name it is published. A read-back is a way of complying with the requirements of Clause 1 (i) for first-person stories, but only if there is a proper record of it having been completed satisfactorily.

"In this instance, the complainant disputed the magazine’s position that she had agreed the accuracy of the material. In the absence of any record that she was content with the copy which was being attributed to her, the Committee was not able to place any reliance on the read-back.

"While the Committee recognised that the magazine had been able to provide notes of its own interview with the complainant, these notes did not include the claim that the complainant had risked leaving her sons motherless by proceeding with her last pregnancy.

"The Committee did not find that the magazine had taken appropriate care over the accuracy of the article; it upheld the complaint under Clause 1 (i)."

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