A Woman’s Day cover story which said the royal family had confirmed Prince Harry and his wife Meghan’s marriage was over was “blatantly incorrect” and a breach of standards, even though gossip magazines are not held to the same factual standards as other media, the press watchdog has found.
An issue of Woman’s Day published in May last year said on its cover: “Palace confirms the marriage is over! Why Harry was left with no choice but to end it”.
The Australian Press Council has ruled that Woman’s Day, which is a member of the self-regulatory body, was in breach of standards for accuracy for the headline, which was not backed up by the article.
Even allowing for the latitude given for factual exaggeration and inaccuracies in publications of this kind, the magazine had crossed a line, the council said.
The magazine, published by Bauer Media, had to publish the adjudication in print and online on Monday.
“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 said.
“The council considers that the statement in the headline was such that it was more than just an exaggeration, and that it was misleading.
“The council acknowledges that celebrity and gossip magazines are purchased for light entertainment, with readers not necessarily assuming that everything presented is factual.”
The publisher told the press council that neither the royal family nor the couple had complained about the article so it had not been corrected.
On 8 January Harry and Meghan announced that they planned to step back from senior roles in the royal family, in part because of their unhappiness about living life in the public spotlight. They have launched several defamation actions against the British press.
The Woman’s Day article used several anonymous sources and alleged the duchess had and “online relationship” with the British singer Matt Cardle.
Meghan, who has consistently attracted negative press, was accused of being “absent from royal duties”.
“ ‘Until now Harry has been giving Meghan the benefit of the doubt’, says our source,” the article said.
“‘But he’s only willing to take so much and it’s reached the stage where enough is truly enough.’”
Woman’s Day argued that magazines trading in gossip and celebrity had readers who understood it was “light entertainment” and it would be “unreasonable to hold such publications to a standard similar to that of other news media”.
“Readers should expect a level of exaggeration and a complaint could be made about almost every gossip magazine,” it said.