In February 1982, two tabloid newspapers published pictures of a pregnant Princess Diana, wearing a bikini, while on holiday on the Caribbean island of Eleuthera.
Note: This article is from the Guardian.
In February 1982, two tabloid newspapers published pictures of a pregnant Princess Diana, wearing a bikini, while on holiday on the Caribbean island of Eleuthera. It caused a sensation. In February 2013, those two papers – in company with the rest of the British press – refused to published pictures of a pregnant Duchess of Cambridge, wearing a bikini, while on holiday on the Caribbean island of Mustique.
What has changed in 31 years? Have newspapers and their readers become less interested in royal gossip? Have journalists become less intrusive? Have the people become less nosey? Have we all become more reverential? Or is it all about post-Leveson nervousness?
The knee-jerk response from some editors would be to cite that final reason. They would argue that the Leveson report has had a chilling effect on popular journalism. Editors are cowed by the threat of parliament creating statutory press regulation. They point to the fact that papers and magazines elsewhere in the world are running pictures of a pregnant member of the British royal family that cannot be printed in British newspapers. How absurd! Press freedom is over in the country that first secured it.
Even if there is some truth in that explanation, it doesn’t take account of a much longer cultural change, within newspapers and within society. And it’s crucial to understand the link between the two.
To grasp the depth of this change, let’s go back to that 1982 escapade. It was all a bit of a lark at the time. The royal teams from the Sun and the Daily Star, enjoying the benefits of the unlimited funds then sloshing through Fleet Street, set out to the Bahamas to find Prince Charles and his pregnant wife. The Sun’s reporter Harry Arnold and photographer Arthur Edwards were in competition with the Star’s James Whitaker and Kenny Lennox. They entertained many a dinner party down the years with their exploits.
It involved them crawling for three hours through the undergrowth of an island neighbouring Eleuthera in order for Edwards and Lennox to train their lenses on the opposite beach. Their prey was five months’ pregnant and they waited for three hours more before she came into view. It’s fair to say they were expecting her to be wearing a smock or, just possibly, a one-piece bathing suit. Instead, in the belief that she was safe from prying eyes, Diana, was in a bikini and therefore showing off her baby bump. They couldn’t believe their luck and neither could their editors back in London – the Sun’s Kelvin MacKenzie and the Star’s Lloyd Turner. They splashed the pictures on their front pages. The Sun’s headline said “Di-land in the sun”.
The establishment was outraged. The Queen called it an invasion of privacy. MPs from all parties signed a Commons motion condemning publication. The rival Daily Mirror carried a leading article called the pictures “squalid in conception, furtive in execution and grubby in publication”. The Press Council, forerunner of the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), held an inquiry and censured the Sun and Star for bringing discredit on the British press by its “gross intrusion” into Diana’s privacy.
Despite that outrage, it proved to be the precursor to years of increasing intrusion into Diana’s life, in which she eventually colluded. It became open season on the royal family and assorted cronies. It can now be seen as the early stage of a period of increasingly cavalier activity by tabloids that would lead to a major inquiry into press misbehaviour and the creation of the PCC by the end of the decade.
But the manner of Diana’s death in 1997 during pursuit by paparazzi did give pause for thought. The palace was clearly determined to get a grip and found, in Diana’s eldest son, William, a man who was not prepared to forgive or forget. A pact was forged between press and palace to ensure that he would be protected from intrusion during his years of education. Through a skilful handling of the media, with occasional heavy-handed legal threats, he has managed to extend the protection to Kate Middleton, before they married and ever since.
His brother Harry has had several scrapes, such as last year’s pictures of him naked in a Las Vegas hotel room, which the Sun duly dared to publish on the ground of exercising press freedom in the public interest. No formal complaint was made and the public appeared to lap up the story. But that was an isolated incident. In truth, the age of reverence has returned. The newspapers’ royal teams have been dismantled. Edwards became a royal favourite, received an MBE in 2002 and would never think of hiding in a bush to take a sneak picture.
It is possible that people are surfing the net to seek out the pictures of Kate, though there is no obvious public clamour to see the baby bump. While tempting to conclude that the press and the people have grown up, it has much more to do with the determination of young prince to avoid the fate of his mother.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010