A Monarchy Out of Step With Press
Critics say the royal family's handling of the media is outdated and damaging
MEDIA experts are urging Queen Elizabeth II and other members of Britain's royal family to take a hard look at their relationship with television and mass-circulation newspapers. They are worried that the monarchy may be damaged if present arrangements for keeping the media informed about the royal family's life are not brought up to date and placed on a footing of mutual respect.Skip to next paragraph
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The experts' concern is being fueled by the continuing aftershock of the announcement two months ago that Prince Andrew, the Queen's second son, and the Duchess of York (Sarah Ferguson) were to end their marriage. Harold Brooks-Baker, publishing director of Burke's Peerage, the semiofficial guide to Britain's titled families, says the announcement of the marriage breakup was "a public relations mess."
He says current arrangements, in which Buckingham Palace press officers are denied direct access to members of the royal family, are "bound to cause problems" and "likely in the long run to weaken the monarchy."
Last week several newspapers published stories about a possible marital rift between Prince Charles and his wife, Diana, and noted that Andrew Morton, a tabloid newspaper journalist, was about to publish a book giving details of the couple's alleged problems. But the Buckingham Palace press office gave journalists its standard "no comment."
The furor over the rift between Andrew and the Duchess of York was triggered by a story leaked to the Daily Mail, a tabloid newspaper. The disclosure gave Charles Anson, the Queen's press secretary, no option but to make an official announcement.
He also gave a background briefing to a correspondent from the British Broadcasting Corporation, putting the blame on the Duchess for the marital rift. The correspondent reported that "the knives are out for Fergie [her mass-media nickname] at the palace." Uproar ensued.
Mr. Anson, a career diplomat seconded to Buckingham Palace for duties as a press officer, was obliged to apologize to the Queen and the Duchess for giving the briefing. It soon became clear, however, that the Queen and her officials were furious with the Duchess for having spoken to the media about her marital problems, instead of letting Anson handle the matter.
No one could recall a royal press secretary ever having to apologize to the monarch. The "Fergie crisis," as London's squadron of reporters have taken to calling it, is the worst case so far of sour relations between the palace and the media. Godfrey Talbot, a veteran commentator on the life and activities of the royal family, says the marriage breakup has spotlighted a deeper problem for the Queen's family.
Mr. Talbot described the life of its members "like goldfish in a bowl." Mass-circulation tabloid newspapers, he says, had "intruded into virtually all aspects of the young couple's life." The marriage had apparently cracked under the strain, and it was likely other royal marriages would suffer the same if nothing was done. "Things must change if the monarchy is not to be severely damaged," Talbot added.