The storm over claims of bullying and racism against an Indian actress in Channel 4’s recent Celebrity Big Brother programme was not restricted to Britain. A record number of complaints, over 50,000 were made to the TV regulator. What was particularly surprising was that a public TV organization would actually broadcast a programme which hardly seems to fall into its remit. Not content with the notoriety which the Big Brother programme has attracted, Channel 4 now plans to broadcast an attack on the Prince of Wales: “Charles – The Meddling Prince”.
Assessed as “unsubstantiated” and “unfair”, the Prince and his advisers have wisely decided on a pre-emptive attack, which reflects the general crack-down by Clarence House on illegal and unethical media behaviour. Writing in the London Daily Telegraph on 12 March 2007, Caroline Davies says that a robust rebuttal running to 21 pages, excluding appendices, has been released in advance of the broadcast. This may be followed by other action, including a complaint to the regulator.
Hitherto the practice in Royal circles has been for any response to follow and not precede a media attack. This initiative reflects the new hard-line approach of the Prince’s energetic Private Secretary, Sir Michael Peat, who clearly will not put up with unethical or illegal conduct by the media. His approach is to be commended. As they say: “Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile.” Apparently the Channel 4 programme makes similar allegations to those made by the Mail on Sunday in its unsuccessful attempt to publish more of the Prince’s private journals which had been stolen from the palace. ( See this column: “Prince’s right to privacy "unanswerable…overwhelming"; judges warn recalcitrant newspaper,” 6 January, 2007.)
The programme makes the charge that if the prince continues his alleged “meddling and secret lobbying” of Government ministers, he could plunge Britain into a constitutional crisis. This of course assumes the Prince does in fact meddle and that his contacts with government ministers are improper, an argument a disgruntled former employee unsuccessfully made in the Mail on Sunday case. This did not persuade the judges in that case that publication of the stolen journals was in the public interest. And as Sir Michael observes , the Prince’s role and the way he contributes to national life will change when he becomes King. That should have been obvious to Channel 4.
The rebuttal includes the assertion that the Prince is absolutely certain that he never said McDonald’s should be banned in his private conversation. Too often we find some Royal story goes around the world and is widely published, only to find that this is completely untrue. Most recently, this was the case when The Sun published photos of Prince Harry, without explaining they were old and thus in no way compromising a current relationship. ( See this column: “Crime and Punishment,” 26 January, 2007)
The observation remains as true as when the former British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin famously enunciated it: the media exercise "power without responsibility – the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages."