Antony Brutus vs. You magazine
Thu, Oct 30, 2014
Ruling by the Press Ombudsman
30 October 2014
This ruling is based on the written submissions of Mr Antony Brutus and those of the editor of YOU, Linda Pietersen.
Brutus is complaining about pictures and text in YOU magazine of 21 October 2014, headlined on the front page Cancer awareness: Six celebs ‘shave’ their heads. Lee-Ann Liebenberg: ‘I’m doing this for daddy’. The main picture on the front page is of Liebenberg, with a bald head. Inside the magazine an editorial appears under the headline YOU say – Celebs go bald for cancer. Also inside, an article is published under the headline, A big up to our six gorgeous celebs who let us ‘shave’ their heads to raise awareness of cancer.
He says that the pictures and texts are ill-judged, insulting, inaccurate and insensitive. They argue that cancer carries a stigma, which cannot be removed by “shock” tactics. Also, they say it is untrue that celebrities have an unambiguous influence or effect on awareness-raising.
He also asks: “Why is the only actual cancer survivor in the article portrayed with her natural…hair in full focus, and not with a ‘photo-shopped’ image… Why try to glamourise a disease that is not pretty?”
YOU replies that it did announce the photos had been photo-shopped (in the editor’s letter, the text and the teaser).
The magazine adds that the Cancer Association has backed the idea in advance.
It also says: “We are sorry we offended some cancer survivors and family members with our cancer awareness campaign. The magazine often covers heartbreaking news stories related to cancer but for Breast Cancer Awareness month we wanted to do something different, something that would really make everyone sit up and take note. And this is exactly what has happened… For many celebrities, their hair is an integral part of their public image so we were thrilled that so many were brave enough to show what they would look like without hair.”
Lastly, YOU states that almost all of the celebrities who took part have been touched by cancer in some way.
In light of the gist of the complaint (ill-judged, insulting, inaccurate and insensitive) the following sections of the Press Code are relevant:
· 2.1: “The press shall take care to report news…accurately”;
· 5.1: “Except where it is strictly relevant to the matter reported and it is in the public interest to do so, the press shall avoid discriminatory or denigratory references to people’s…status…”; and
· 10.3: “Pictures shall not misrepresent or mislead nor be manipulated to do so.”
I shall deal with Section 10.3 first. This is potentially one of the areas most likely to endanger the credibility of the press, and should therefore be handled with the utmost care. The reason for this is obvious – if a publication photo-shops a picture and misleads the public in that process, the very next question is: What else can we believe in the press?
This brings to mind the world-famous example of the publication of the picture of Mr Nelson Mandela, releasing a few white doves (just after his release from prison). That picture was photo-shopped, as the doves were brought closer to his hands than they actually were at the time. The reason, it was later explained, was space constraints -- not enough space to accommodate the real picture (the doves were too far from his hands).
The problem in this instance was that the newspaper failed to inform the public that the picture had been photo-shopped.
Applying the above to the case at hand, I take into account that YOU did indeed state several times that the pictures had been photo-shopped. I therefore believe that it was not the magazine’s intention to mislead the public, neither was there any misrepresentation on its part, nor a reasonable likelihood that the public might have misunderstood the matter.
I also note with appreciation that YOU obtained the endorsement of the Cancer Association prior to publication.
This means that the matter of:
· accuracy does not enter the picture (as YOU never pretended it to be “accurate” in the sense that their hair had really been shaved); and
· insensitivity cannot be of decisive importance.
I do not agree that cancer carries a stigma (read: “a stain to one’s reputation”), as this illness is not necessarily the result of immoral behaviour.
I also do not think that the disease has been “glamourised”. The mere fact that (glamorous) celebrities participate in a campaign, does not by definition “glamourise” the issue.
The complaint is dismissed.
Our Complaints Procedures lay down that within seven working days of receipt of this decision, either party may apply for leave to appeal to the Chairperson of the SA Press Adjudication Panel, Judge Bernard Ngoepe, fully setting out the grounds of appeal. He can be contacted at Khanyim@ombudsman.org.za.