Lessons to be learned from topless royal pictures

As a former agency hack, a wry smile creases my face when I hear the editors of British national newspapers speaking of their disgust and dismay at a French magazine’s decision to run with topless pictures of the Duchess of Cambridge.

Call me a cynic, but their stance couldn’t have anything to do with the imminent publication of the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practice and ethics of the press, could it?

The reaction reminds me of the BBC’s attempts to distance itself from those awful print journalists in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal and the demise of the News of the World.

It is hypocrisy of the highest order, in my book. As is the decision by Richard Desmond to try to close down the Irish Daily Star newspaper after its editor chose to publish the same images.

Another case of jobs and a news title being sacrificed, amid feigned outrage, to protect commercial interests.

Turn the clock back a few years, before the paranoia, and I dare say all the UK tabloids would have paid good money for said images of Kate Middleton.

What’s more, the British public would have bought the papers in their millions and poor Kate’s picture would have been adorning the walls of more than a few workshops and garages.

Let’s face it: for two decades or more, topless or scantily-clad women have been the staple currency of tabloid newsrooms – and members of the royal family haven’t been immune.

I was a cub reporter back in August 1992 when the Daily Mirror published topless images of the Duchess of York having her toes sucked by American businessman John Bryan while on holiday in a remote villa in the south of France.

Each to his or her own, I guess.
True, the episode did little for Fergie’s marriage to the Duke of York, but she recovered her reputation sufficiently to be flogging Wedgwood to the Yanks a few years later.

No matter how embarrassed or angry Prince William and the Duchess are right now, the truth is that this incident will blow over.

Their reputations are intact. Indeed, the French mag’s indiscretion seems to have simply served to endear the newlyweds even more to many people as they are, quite clearly, the victims.

There are understandable, continuous comparisons between the heir-to-the-throne’s wife and his late mother – Diana, Princess of Wales. There always will be.

The way in which the tabloid press dogged Diana throughout her marriage to prince Charles, and the involvement of the paparazzi in the tragic accident which led to her death, obviously means that Prince William’s relationship with the media will always be strained.

But we shouldn’t forget that the late Princess of Wales used and manipulated the media as and when it suited her, and so all is not as black and white as some would have us believe.

Let’s be clear: the photographer was wrong to take the pictures of William and Kate and the French magazine was wrong to publish them.

It is wrong now as it was wrong 20 years ago with Fergie.

What has happened in Aix-en-Provence was a gross invasion of privacy in a country which, ironically, is held up as a shining example because it has some of the world’s toughest privacy laws.

By the same token, the British press was right to refuse to publish the images of the topless Duchess.

You see, it’s one thing to justify printing images of a naked Prince Harry fooling about in a hotel room when they have already been seen by millions of people on the internet.

It is quite something else to expose the future Queen to such scrutiny when the images of her were taken by stealth in a private moment where she could have reasonably expected a degree of personal freedom.

There are several lessons to be learned here. Firstly, members of the royal family should not disrobe in public – and what I mean by that is basically: “Don’t take your kit off outside”. No matter where you are.

It may not seem fair and it may not be right, but the Duke and Duchess are – next to Brand Beckham – arguably THE most popular celebrities in Christendom and thus will spend the rest of their lives under the scrutiny of camera lenses – some of which will have a very long reach.

The second lesson to learn from this is that draconian privacy laws simply don’t work – as evidenced here. Those penning the final pages of the Leveson Inquiry report and recommendations would do well to take this onboard.

I’m all for the British national press cleaning up its act.

Indeed, I think it has and will further because the phone-hacking scandal is a genuine watershed moment.

However, we must be careful not to turn the pursuit of better standards into a witch hunt because a toothless, neutered press really would be neither use nor ornament.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel

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