November 9

Royal reporting :rumour, hearsay, untruths and invasion of privacy

As we mentioned in our recent column of 25 September, 2006, Mr Jeremy Paxman has a generous amount of egg on his face over his latest book “On Royalty”. In a review of the book in The Observer of 1 October, 2006, Peter Preston asks what’s the point of “yet another literary tour around British monarchs ancient and modern?”

Mr. Preston’s answers are unassailable. We have long lamented this growing contagion of publishing anything which has been “sourced”, a phenomenon best demonstrated by the American auteur, Ms. Kitty Kelley. (It seems that the Kitty Kelley style has arrived in Australia with the publication of “Jonestown,” Chris Master’s unauthorized biography of Alan Jones, who was one of the handful of people in the media who recommended a No vote in the 1999 republican referendum. Mr. Jones would advise listeners “If you don’t know, vote No”. My review of this  this book appeared  in The Australian    on 30 October, 2006, and  was  republished in  On Line Opinion  on 31 October, 2006.)

 A publisher in receipt of the sort of story Ms Kelley writes should first determine whether ethically, publication about the private life of a public figure is in the public interest. A story, even if it were true, about the Prince of  Wales’ preferences in relation to boiled eggs hardly reaches that threshold. And Mr Paxman, who is a BBC presenter, would understand this. And let’s not hide behind the fact that the publication is not, as far as I know, the BBC’s.  The story has already been repeated there. Second, the publisher should test the reliability of the source, and also seek independent corroboration. And thirdly, and most importantly, the victim should be given the opportunity of commenting before, and not after publication.

So what is Mr Preston’s reply to his questioning the need for another such book? “If you want scabrous, then Kitty Kelley did it best. If you want seriously erudite history, then David Cannadine rules unchallenged. If you want glycerine tears, then put in a call to Andrew Morton. Who needs to know what the supreme lip-curler of BBC2 has to add, especially since he can never grill the great uninterviewable, ER2, for himself?”

Noting that it is unlikely that such questions would trouble either Mr. Paxman or his publisher, Mr. Preston says that both the dust jacket and title piece give their game away. The authors name is in very large type, the title of the book is in small type. Mr Paxman was once a convinced republican, but now thinks that monarchy is alright “ because getting rid of them would be an awful bother.”  Mr Preston asks how do you turn that into a 288-page thesis, with 60 pages of notes and bibliography? “Pass the scissors and paste, “he says, and remember, “On Royalty” could solve the Christmas gift problem, at least this year.


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