June 7

Channel 4: yet another outrage

This is the full text of the letter from Princes William and Harry’s private secretary Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton to Channel 4:
“Thank you for allowing Paddy Harverson and me to view at your offices yesterday evening your programme about the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, which you intend to broadcast on 6th June. Given that you were unwilling to release a copy for Prince William and Prince Harry to view personally, I verbally briefed the Princes on the content of the programme last night immediately after the viewing. Their Royal Highnesses have asked me to communicate to you in the strongest terms possible that their position remains unchanged from that clearly articulated by them in July 2006, on the occasion of the Italian magazine, Chi, publishing a photograph of the scene surrounding their mother’s dying moments.
To remind you of what they said then: "Following this week’s publication in an Italian magazine of material relating directly to the death of our mother, we feel deeply saddened that such a low has been reached. Despite the support shown to us and our mother’s memory by so many people over the last eight years, we feel that, as her sons, we would be failing in our duty to her now if we did not protect her – as she once did us. Therefore we appeal to all forms of media throughout the world to appreciate fully that publishing such material causes great hurt to us, our father, our mother’s family and all those who so loved and respected her."
I explained to the Princes the central focus of the programme and its themes, and, in particular, the part played by the paparazzi in the tragedy. I do have to say, though, that this latter issue has already clearly been addressed in the findings of both the French police investigation and the Stevens Report – and is, therefore, of debatable fresh "public interest". Even the graphic descriptions by Mr Lennox and the advisor to the French interior ministry of the facial wounds of the dying Princess are not something that we feel we can challenge – although obviously they are extremely distressing for the Princes to have to hear and see broadcast to a public audience.
But the pictures are another matter. I must ask you not to broadcast those photographs that depict the crashed car whilst the Princes’ mother lies dying in its wreckage. Also, I ask on the Princes’ behalf that the shot of the ambulance, with a medic clearly administering emergency treatment to the unseen figure of the Princess, not be broadcast. These photographs, regardless of the fact that they do not actually show the Princess’s features, are redolent with the atmosphere and tragedy of the closing moments of her life. As such, they will cause the Princes acute distress if they are shown to a public audience, not just for themselves, but also on their mother’s behalf, in the sense of intruding upon the privacy and dignity of her last minutes. As they said in their statement last year: "… We feel that, as her sons, we would be failing in our duty to her now if we did not protect her – as she once did us".
Put simply, if it were your or my mother dying in that tunnel would we want the scene broadcast to the nation? Indeed, would the nation so want it? I must, therefore, ask you to give this matter your immediate attention, and have your written response to my specific requests by no later than nine o’clock on Monday morning, 4th June.”
Channel 4 did not reply as requested.  A statement from Clarence House said William and Harry felt that they had been left no choice but to make public their feelings about the images.
"As of this morning, Clarence House had not received a reply from Channel 4. "In publishing the letter, the Princes reluctantly feel that they have been left no choice but to make it clear publicly that they believe the broadcast of these photographs to be wholly inappropriate, deeply distressing to them and to the relatives of the others who died that night, and a gross disrespect to their mother’s memory."


Julian Bellamy, head of Channel 4, subsequently appeared on television to claim, lamely, that it was not the intention of the Channel to cause William and Harry distress.  It would have of course been obvious to Bellamy that this would be the direct consequence of his action.
"Channel 4 acknowledges the concerns expressed by the Princes William and Harry about the documentary.We would like to make clear that it was not our intention in commissioning this programme to cause them distress and we do not believe it is in any way disrespectful to the memory of Princess Diana. We have weighed the Princes’ concerns against the legitimate public interest we believe there is in the subject of this documentary and in the still photography it includes."
According to the London Daily Telegraph of 6 June,2007, he said that the photos and interviews provided the "most detailed and credible eyewitness account yet delivered" of the 1997 crash.
Channel 4 is developing a track record in going beyond, and indeed, below the standards of broadcasting hitherto accepted in Britain.  In this column on 12 March 2007 we said that 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 had attracted, Channel 4 followed this with an attack on the Prince of Wales: “Charles – The Meddling Prince” which Clarence House described as both “unsubstantiated” and “unfair”.
Once again, Channel 4 has crossed the line.  There is no public interest in publishing these photographs. To claim this is in itself offensive; their publication  breaches every code of media ethics known in the civilized world  The proof of this is in the universal restraint offered hitherto by every responsible broadcaster and publisher.  The Channel may also breach the law, and if it does it is to be hoped that the Channel is visited with the fullest sanction.
In the meantime the UK broadcasting regulator, Ofcom, has a clear duty to act.  In fact, this latest challenge to decency must put the future of the Channel itself in question.  It is hard to believe that Channel 4 is publicly owned with public service obligations imposed by statute.  Not only the regulator, but both the government and Parliament must act.  Otherwise Channel 4 will continue to push the envelope, believing it is beyond ethical and legal constraint.




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