For now, the most significant revelation about this Royal row is that the BBC clearly no longer feels any obligation to exercise journalistic restraint when it comes to our constitutional monarchy. The Royal Family has become “just another story”. The BBC’s seems to think that if its journalism interferes with the private relationship between the two brothers, then so be it. If it is de-stabilising and damages the standing of the Crown, so be it. If it puts hurtful gossip and conjecture into the public domain, so be it.
It is not, apparently, any business of the BBC’s to hold back – even if the consequences are negative personally and societally. Everything is subordinated to getting ‘the story’ – which is exactly the mindset that led to the Bashir scandal. Has the BBC learned nothing?
Once upon a time the BBC took a very different attitude. Back in the 1930s an American scholar, Lincoln Gordon, wrote a book about public corporations in Britain. One of his case studies was the BBC and – regarding its journalism – he wrote: “there are certain conscious partis pris which are taken for granted as beliefs appropriate to a British national institution …in domestic affairs they are the Monarchy, the Constitution, the British Empire and Christianity.”
In other words there are things that were not to be questioned. The 1930s was a different, more deferential age, but even when I joined the BBC in the 1970s there was what might be termed a journalistic “cordon sanitaire” around the Queen and her family. The BBC in those days trod very carefully around the subject, leaving anything gossipy or sensational to the tabloid press.