Thursday, February 26, 2015

Review: Reinventing The Royals - Part 1 - Crisis

A few months prior to its release, it was reported that  Buckingham Palace had attempted to prevent the broadcast of Reinventing the Royals, a two part series presented by Stephen Hewlett, about the relationship between the media and the monarchy. As in many cases with 'controversial' books or television specials, the controversy has turned out to be much ado about nothing. (You can watch the first episode at the bottom of this post).

Part One, titled Crisis, begins with the excessive coverage of Diana, Princess of Wales in the early 1990s and how her death resulted in changes to the way the media covers members of the royal family, specifically Prince William and Prince Harry. Several royal correspondents and editors offer their insights, including Penny Junor, Jennie Bond, Robert Jobson, Richard Kay, Arthur Edwards and Sandy Henney (Former press secretary to the Prince of Wales) to name a few. However, in the process of offering only one side, it effectively paints the media during this period at the mercy of Prince Charles and his spin doctors. To quote Richard Kay, "we know we are being used. We are always being used."

In the wake of Diana's death, Prince Charles reputation was at its lowest point and in 1996 he hired a spin doctor, Mark Bolland, then Director of the Press Complaints Commission. Effective in his outcomes but ruthless in his practices, Bolland promoted and revitalized Prince Charles's image at the expense of other members of the royal family and William and Harry's privacy. In a controversial campaign referred to as 'Operation Mrs. PB,' Charles relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles gained gradual acceptance via a series of strategically reported meetings and highly choreographed public appearances.

As Charles and Camilla's relationship gained legitimacy, interest in William and Harry intensified but they were protected by the 'Pressure Cooker Agreement,' negotiated in 1995 at the time William began his education at Eton.  This agreement protected the Princes privacy during their education, placing a ban on media stories about them. In exchange for their cooperation, the press would be granted occasional official access. However, the agreement threatened to deteriorate when the press received stories and photographs they could not use.

In order to satiate the press, Sandy Henney arranged for a photographer and cameraman to have access to Prince William to shoot images and footage for his 18th birthday. These images were meant to be shared with other media outlets, but the photographer involved in the photos, on contract to the Daily Telegraph, ended up giving that newspaper a competitive advantage. Rival newspapers accused Prince Charles' office of favoritism and Sandy Henney lost her job as a result of this arrangement.

Mark Bolland admitted to distorting events surrounding Prince Harry's drug use and later resigned from the Prince of Wales's office. As Bolland's efforts denigrated other members of the royal family, the Queen appointed Sir Michael Peat as the Prince of Wales' new private secretary, creating a new focus for his press office that put the media's relationship with them on more traditional ground.

Predictably, this was not likely to last. Part Two will air on February 26th.

© Marilyn Braun 2015

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