April 25

The truth about royal watchers

“No, it wasn’t too much Trollope, it was the spell check, Your Honour.” That will be my plea if I am called to account for calling Barry Everingham Mr. “Effingham” in my last column.  I spotted one such Effingham, but missed the other. 


I remember once when I had just signed a long, technical and very  official letter to my then Minister,  I noticed that rather than being addressed to  Senator Alston, it was addressed to Senator Alsation.


Mark Steyn, who is often published in The Australian, warns against taking any notice of royal watchers. He says he has  had only one brief conversation with The Queen, and admits he hasn’t “a clue what she really thinks about anything.” This is in a piece in the leading Canadian journal, Macleans on 21April, 2006.


 But, he says, that’s one more conversation with than most "royal watchers" have had ! And they claim to be privy to her innermost thoughts. 


He recalls one story about the 1999 referendum which I have mentioned before. It is worth repeating because some people, including Barry Everingham and Richard Butler, say they know the real story, which is that The Queen and the Duke expected and wanted Australia to become a republic and were surprised by the vote.


Not surprisingly, royal watchers disagree among themselves about what The Queen thinks. Mark Steyn recalls that Christopher Morgan reported in Britain’s Sunday Times that "the Queen was ‘hurt and disappointed’ by the strength of republican feeling in Australia." But on the very night of the referendum, Mr. Steyn happened to be dining at Buckingham Palace.  As “the only journalist on the planet within six feet of a royal facial expression that day I can exclusively reveal that I haven’t the foggiest as to the Queen’s or the Duke of Edinburgh’s feelings.”


 Nor he says does Mr. Morgan. Nor do the Everinghams, the Effinghams and the Butlers. But as Mr. Steyn says, the great thing about covering the House of Windsor is that that is no obstacle whatsoever.


When Lord Hutton handed down his report in 2004 over the events surrounding the suicide of Dr David Kelly, he observed that no reporter should be allowed to impugn the integrity of another without an independent editorial assessment.  Richard Ackland said in the Sydney Morning Herald on 30 January, 2004 that this was a recipe for dull and unresponsive journalism. Perhaps. But it is also a recipe for  encouraging objective reporting, even when the reporting is disguised as opinion.



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