Take a Break: a mother’s pain – an editor’s headline

Interesting blog article here>> (and where I borrowed my title from)

This was the response from the Complaints Commission, in response to my formal complaint:

 

Commission’s decision in the case of

Various v Take a Break

 

The Commission received more than 300 complaints from individuals concerned about the accuracy of a real-life feature published by Take a Break magazine on 26 September 2013.  The article was promoted on the front page of the magazine with the headline “Poisoned by Mum’s milk: Breastfeeding KILLED my baby” and continued as a double page spread headlined “Our Lives: A mum’s guilt/My baby, killed by my breast milk”.  The item was a mother’s first person account of losing her baby to galactosaemia, a rare disorder that affects an individual’s ability to metabolisegalactose – a sugar found in milk, breast milk and some breast milk substitutes – properly.

The Commission acknowledged that the magazine’s coverage had raised strong feelings, and that readers were genuinely concerned about the headlines, which directly linked breastfeeding and breast milk to the death of Oscar Brandwood.  It noted the complainants’ objection to this link, including their argument that the child’s condition would have rendered most forms of nutrition harmful, not just breast milk.  Many of the complainants were concerned that the headlines were misleading and might dissuade mothers from breastfeeding when its benefits have been promoted widely by health organisations.

However, the Commission had to be clear that its task was not to come to a view as to the impact of the article on the reputation of breastfeeding.  Rather, it had been asked by 66 of those who initially contacted it to consider whether, in the circumstances of the case, it was in a position to pursue an investigation into this matter.

In regard to complaints about matters of general fact under Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code – where there are no obvious first parties cited in the article, who might complain – the Commission emphasised that it can indeed investigate complaints from any concerned reader.

The question here was whether aspects of the coverage (for example, the headlines) had misrepresented the cause of Oscar Brandwood’s death and the Commission considered the broader issue of the impact on the readers themselves, who may have been misinformed (in the view of the complainants) as to the risks of breastfeeding.  The Commission had some sympathy for their complaint on this score.   However, it noted that the article covered a mother’s highly personal account of the loss of her baby and the medical issues surrounding his death.  This included a factual account of her experiences of breastfeeding. There was no question, in the Commission’s view, of readers being misled, to any significant degree, about the nature of galactosaemia.  While there was an emphasis on breastfeeding in both headlines, the main text of the article made clear formula milk may have had a similar impact on the child when it stated that galactosaemia is a rare condition and sufferers must “be fed soya milk instead of breast milk or cow’s milk formula”.  In this case, Ms Brandwood described how, in the absence of a timely diagnosis, “every breast feed had been harming [her child]”.  The headlines accurately reflected that, in this particular case, the child had sadly died due to his continued consumption of breastmilk.  No breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) was established by the complaint.

In circumstances where the claim that her own breast milk had poisoned her child was clearly attributed to Stacey Brandwood, the Commission was not able to comment further without the involvement of Ms Brandwood.  Only Ms Brandwood and her immediately family would be in a position to provide detailed information on how Oscar came to die, and their opinions and interests would have to be considered in relation to any investigation (the outcome of which would be likely to be public).

The Commission was grateful to the complainants for raising these issues and accepted that they felt strongly about what had taken place.  It had given their opinions careful consideration.  The decision that there was no prima facie breach of the Code and that the complaint could not be investigated further was taken with regard to the full circumstances of the matter. 

Yours sincerely

Mel Huggett on behalf of Rebecca Hales

 

Press Complaints Commission

Halton House

20/23 Holborn

London EC1N 2JD

Tel: 020 7831 0022

Website: www.pcc.org.uk

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