The Royal Family are said to be furious about the two-part BBC documentary The Princes And The Press, with Charles, William and the Queen issuing a joint statement slamming its content
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In life, three things are guaranteed: taxes, death and Royal Family documentaries.
With a healthy majority ( 62 percent ) of the public supporting the monarchy (84 percent among 65s and over), their influence among the British people is clear. That’s before you account for their support across the Commonwealth and America.
They are figures of public interest, partially because their power is so ambiguous. This has created a conflicting, double edged relationship with the media: reliant on them for royal coverage, while also subject to immense scrutiny.
The latest dose has been Amol Rajan’s new BBC documentary The Princes And The Press, exploring the different ways Prince William and Harry engage with the media.
The Royal Family have been less than impressed, with the Queen said to be unhappy and reportedly joining with Prince Charles and William in threatening to boycott future projects with the corporation. The three senior royal households – Buckingham Palace, Clarence House and Kensington Palace – have issued a statement criticising the broadcaster for “giving credibility” to “overblown and unfounded claims”/
This is significant for the BBC, who are well aware royal documentaries generate guaranteed coverage and attention, as is playing out.
CAMERA PRESS/Chris Floyd)
The Palace have complained about no right of reply, which would allow them to respond to allegations, and not being shown a preview of the documentary. The right of reply criticism is fascinating. For years the Queen’s approach to public relations was ‘never complain, never explain’, where the Royals would not respond to damaging allegations in return for never having to explain themselves, thus preserving their mystique. It seems Harry and Meghan are not the only ones seeking to modernise the family.
Whatever furore this generates, the BBC must not feel deterred from pursuing investigate journalism into the Royal Family. The Royals, despite their largely ceremonial role, have huge political and financial interests in Britain. Their wealth, reported as $88billion (£65.9bn) in 2017, and vast land ownership, offers them immense power in decision-making.
Just imagine what precedent might be set if the BBC complied. Scrutiny would invariably be weakened. Given the Queen lobbied for changes in the law to hide her private wealth and be exempt from a Scottish emissions reduction scheme, journalistic transparency would dramatically lose out.
What’s to say such lobbying would stop with the Queen? Given the Prince of Wales’ outspoken campaigning on climate change, nobody would be surprised if he lobbied future governments on environment measures as king. Any such campaigning by the Royal Family, given their unelected status, would need exposing.
There is no doubt the Royals have some justification in their anger towards the media. The means by which Martin Bashir obtained an interview with the late Princess Diana were an anathema to good journalism (even though Diana said she had ‘no regrets’ about the interview).
Amol Rajan is a superb journalist – one of the BBC’s finest. I have no doubt he will have meticulously researched every aspect of the documentary for fact checking. I’m also sure he will not feel pressurised by the Royals into changing the documentary.
If he did, the chilling effect on future Royal investigative journalism would ensure coverage cannot occur without fear or favour.
*The Princes And The Price concludes next week on BBC One. Part one of the documentary is available to stream on iPlayer
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.