January 23


The current practice when reporting on the Royal Family seems to be to adopt the approach of that America's mauvaise language, Kitty Kelly. (The French, appropriately, call a scandal monger an evil tongue) Miss Kelly's practice, for example in her book on the Reagans, seems to be to publish the most damaging story or rumour then circulating, without any corroboration and without seeking verification from those involved. On 29 December 2003, The Sydney Morning Herald, relying on a story in The Times, reported a bitter dispute between the Palace and the late Queen Mother's eminent biographer, William Shawcross. It said that this arose because the Palace had demanded ultimate control over what would be included in the book. Unfortunately the story was without any foundation whatsoever, a fact which either newspaper could have established if they had taken the elementary and one would have thought ethically necessary step of actually asking both Mr Shawcross and the Palace whether the story was true. They did not, so Mr Shawcross wrote to the Herald on New Year's Day, his letter being published, without apology or explanation, on 3-4 January 2003. (The Herald now follows the practice introduced by The Australian of having a two day paper at the weekend, an innovation that has no doubt excited the Herald's readership!) Mr Shawcross says that the negotiations between his agent and the Palace have been very courteous, and no one had sought to direct his researches in any way. Moreover no one had asked to have approval of the manuscript. The failure to follow traditional journalistic ethics is a feature of scandal sheets, now mainly on the web. Mr Stephen Warne of Crikey.com seems to justify this practice whenever he is truly caught out by the plea that he just doesn't have the resources to check everything or, one supposes, anything. Surely the quality press could do better. Or is it, as we suspect, that these rules don't apply to the Royal Family?


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