Want to poke fun at the royal family? Not while the royal wedding is being broadcast, you can’t.
The Australian TV show "The Chaser," which had planned an irreverent commentary to accompany images of the ceremony, has been pulled from ABC2’s schedule, after learning that footage of the event is banned from being used in any comedy or satirical program.
The incident is likely to increase unease about the special treatment the British monarchy receives, particularly when it comes to suppressing criticism from those with antiroyal views. While many people are sympathetic with the royal family’s desire to maintain a degree of control over the event, critics believe restrictive measures, which include the police’s intended hard-line toward protesters on Friday, illustrate an unacceptable level of influence the monarchy continues to exert over the state and beyond.
ABC TV director Kim Dalton said he was “surprised and disappointed” that "The Chaser" could not be aired, while one of the show’s stars, Julian Morrow, described the rule as “out of step with a modern democracy.”
Comedy? Satire? Forget it.
Clarence House, which oversees the affairs of Prince William and drew up the broadcast contract with the BBC, issued a statement saying that it was “standard practice for these kinds of religious ceremonies to include a clause which restricts usage in drama, comedy, satirical, or similar entertainment programs.”
Organizations championing freedom of expression have questioned whether the royals should have the right to impose such restrictions, especially given that the taxpayer will pick up most of the costs involved in organizing the event.
Padraig Reidy, news editor at Britain's Index on Censorship, describes the royal family’s control of the coverage as “bizarre.” He adds that plans for preemptive arrests and restrictions on the right to protest were even more concerning, branding as “unprecedented” the police’s intended approach.
“The level of stage management with such an event might not be surprising, but certainly the police promise to use the Public Order Act on the day to deal with anyone who even slightly tries to interfere with the spectacle is rather worrying in our view,” he says.
Republican groups are incensed over suggestions by Metropolitan Police Commander Christine Jones that antiroyal placards in the vicinity of the ceremony would be removed on the day. Graham Smith, spokesman for Republic, a group that advocates a "democratic alternative to the monarchy," says, “Republicans have every right to make their voice heard on the day of the royal wedding, and the police have a fundamental duty to protect that right. The idea that political dissent should be silenced in order to protect the image of the royals goes against every democratic principle.”
In a recent interview with the BBC, Commander Jones said, “There are 364 other days of the year when people can come to London and demonstrate and frankly it’s not appropriate on the day of the royal wedding for people to come to London with that intent.”
Attack on freedom of speech?
Smith thinks those remarks are outrageous. “What Commander Jones appears to be saying is that the she has been co-opted into the royal family’s PR campaign. By doing so she’s not only compromising the neutrality of her officers, but also making a disgraceful attack on freedom of speech. We’re seeking urgent clarification so that republicans are reassured that their rights won’t be trampled on,” he said.
The hostility toward some of the constraints imposed as a result of the wedding is bound to reignite condemnation of the royal family’s privileged position. The monarchy has often been criticized for the special treatment it receives, particularly with regard to the law. Correspondence between members of the royal family and government departments are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, for example.
“The whole system is designed so that the royals are not above the law but slightly outside of it,” said Index on Censorship’s Mr. Reidy. “We know Prince Charles very regularly speaks his mind and writes to government on various matters such as healthcare and public architecture. If someone is trying to influence government policy in any way, then it does seem rather unfair that they should be exempt from freedom of information.”
MPs may not make critical remarks about the monarcy
The special treatment extends even to Parliament. Under House of Commons rules, MPs are banned from making critical remarks about the royals. In March, Labour MP Paul Flynn was prevented from speaking about the behavior of Prince Andrew, whose role as a UK trade envoy has recently come under scrutiny.
“It’s quite outrageous that as elected parliamentarians, we aren’t allowed to criticize,” said Mr. Flynn. “It’s crazy that we have our mouths bandaged about matters of important public interest, in this case how we’re represented abroad.”
Describing the treatment the royal family received as “very privileged,” he added, “The Queen is shielded from all criticism and her family are protected in the same way. It’s a piece of the privileged litter from the past and has no place in a modern parliament.”