May 10

From London to Sydney – the media behaving badly

The media recently breathlessly reported the extraordinary headline – making news that those young soldiers, Prince Harry, who is about to go to Iraq, and Prince William had gone out in the evening on separate occasions.  Apparently they had consumed some drinks, they had talked to girls, and they had danced.  In summary, they had enjoyed themselves.  And yes, Prince Harry, for very good reason, doesn’t think highly of the paparazzi and sometimes shows it.  At about the same time, the media also reported that Princess Eugenie had set up an internet diary where, they said, she chats about members of the Royal Family.  


This last story is not the first time that the media have made fools of themselves.  As D.D. McNicoll wrote in The Australian on 27 March, 2007, the lure of Princess Eugenie having her own uncensored blog proved too attractive to ignore for “normally cynical and cautious hacks.”  And this was not only in the UK, it was across the world.  The Mail on Sunday began it by breathlessly reporting that Princess Eugenie had referred to The Queen as "Super Gran" and that she loves hotdogs and doughnuts.  But just a few seconds perusing the blog should have had “the alarm bells ringing.”  Nevertheless UPI and media around the world, including Australia, ran with the story.


Well, at least this was just a case of merely careless and gullible reporting.  The media can do worse.  In this column on 13 August 2006 (“Republican media score own goal”),  we reported that it did not take long for some journalists to seek revenge for the arrest of a News of The World editor and journalist.  They were charged with and found guilty of the criminal offence of hacking a number of private message banks, including some belonging to members of the Royal Family.  Soon after the London tabloid The Sun, a sister newspaper of the News of the World, published some three year old photographs of Prince Harry and Prince William as if they were recently taken, and thus potentially compromising their current relationships. 



Although the story was almost immediately picked up around the world, few media outlets published with equal prominence, if at all, the news that the photographs were subsequently found to be old.  The Sun initially refused to apologise, saying the photos were” authentic” but not explaining its gross deceit in trying to pass them off as recent.  


Media outlets which should have known better fell into the trap set by The Sun. 


When it comes to the Royal Family, the rules aren’t applied – too many in the media take the view, sometimes unconsciously,that there is no need to check facts.  Journalists and the editors abandon their usual scepticism.  They should not to publish these stories without proper verification, but more importantly, they should be ashamed of the fact that when the truth has come out, many have not corrected them with equal prominence, or even at all.  After all, nearly every media ethics code says this is exactly what they promise to do.


And another thing.



 A reader writes to tell us that on the ABC TV comedy programme,


“The Chasers’ War on Everything” broadcast on 28 and 30 March, 2007, (with a repeat on ABC2 at 830PM on Sunday 1 April, 2007) there was a satirical piece on the NSW Leader of the Opposition, who had been photographed in his “ Speedo” swimming trunks in the recent election campaign.  An accompanying scene involved The Queen’s face being superimposed on an elderly female body wearing only men’sSpeedos.  We have not seen it, and, curiously, it is inaccessible on the ABC site,



This is not acceptable.  Our reader says this is an outrage and the programme director should be dismissed.  There is a difference between humour in such programmes, including programmes principally with a young audience,  and such a deviation from good taste as to merit a censure.  In other countries, including some republics, such behaviour can result in a criminal prosecution.  We are not suggesting that.  But there are limits in a civilized society, and going beyond these and causing distress to fellow citizens is not to be encouraged.  Those who think that the Royal Family is fair game should consider their reaction if their mother or grandmother were depicted this way.  Would that be amusing?



  The taxpayer – funded national broadcaster has a special responsibility in this regard, and will need to treat complaints about this without condescension.  The managing director and the ABC board must ensure that this sort of gratuitous offence is not repeated. 





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