The royal family and the British media | Between decorum and thirst for news

After a week of wild speculation about Catherine, Princess of Wales’s hospitalization, two pieces of information appeared to indicate that she was doing better: a photo of her in a car driven by her mother and confirmation by the military British that she would attend a ceremony in June.

But like everything concerning the health of Prince William’s wife, in recent weeks, certainty has quickly evaporated.

Buckingham Palace said on Tuesday that the army had prematurely announced Catherine’s participation in the Color Salute, a ritual which celebrates the sovereign’s birthday. And although British newspapers reported the existence of paparazzi photos, purportedly of “Princess Kate”, which were posted on social media on Monday, none of them published the images.

And after another cycle of questionable news, monarchy enthusiasts found themselves back in the same place: in the dark about their princess, who had abdominal surgery in January and hasn’t been seen since. .

The only mention of Catherine was through an intermediary on Monday evening, when her unfiltered uncle, the eccentric Gary Goldsmith, appeared on a British reality show, Celebrity Big Brother.

In other times, his escapades might have embarrassed Catherine, who cultivated a dignified and disciplined image as a senior member of the royal family. But in the absence of news, the histrionic and provocative uncle gave Kate a break by providing the British tabloids with something to eat.

The press bosses of Fleet Street – the street of the tabloids – had to make the difficult trade-off between their zeal to cover the royal family – almost limitless with regard to the future queen, the commoner Kate Middleton – and the right to a minimum privacy even for public figures with regard to their health.

“The media is lagging behind” on social media, says Sarah Sands, a former BBC executive and former deputy editor of the Sunday Telegraph. “They are in full questioning, according to her. Did they love her too much and put too much pressure on her? Is the new role of the media to comfort? »

“At the moment, the tabloids have the help of this sympathetic buffoon character that is Gary Goldsmith, Kate’s devious uncle,” continues Mme Sands. He will likely be their only inside source for the next few weeks. »

Grainy photos

If true, it could save newspapers and television stations from tough decisions like Monday’s, when US gossip site TMZ published what it says are the first images of Catherine since her hospitalization. The grainy telephoto photos show a woman wearing sunglasses who resembles Catherine. They were taken near Windsor Castle, according to TMZ.

See the photos from TMZ

According to Daily Mail, the photos were not published in Britain because Kensington Palace, where William and Catherine have their offices, “requested that she be allowed to recover in private”. The London tabloid speculates that they were taken Monday morning, shortly after Catherine dropped her children off at school, helped by her mother, Carole Middleton.

Chris Ship, who covers the monarchy for ITV News, addressed the images circulating online, but said: “We are not showing them out of respect for her privacy while she recovers from her operation, for some time. period. »

According to Kensington Palace, Catherine will return to her royal duties after Easter, at the earliest. Last week, William abruptly pulled out of a ceremony, sparking a whirlwind of rumors. The palace then reiterated that timeline, adding that it would only provide “significant updates.” A spokesperson said the princess was still doing well.

Memory of Diana

On Tuesday, the palace declined to comment on the photos, saying it did not want to give TMZ publicity. British newspapers have handled paparazzi photos cautiously since the death of Princess Diana, William’s mother, in a car crash in Paris in 1997 after a high-speed chase by photographers.

“This memory is still vivid in the British media,” says Mme Sands, who was then deputy editor of the Daily Telegraph. “They were very remorseful. The rules on privacy and liability have changed profoundly. »

The courts have ruled that the right to privacy extends to the royal family, and the press code of ethics, which governs much of the British media, protects all individuals from unwarranted intrusion into public affairs issues. physical and mental health.

Some have a more cynical view of the media’s motivations, especially since the images are easily accessible on an iPhone.

“What’s fascinating is that the nonsense posted on social media about Kate gives newspapers an opportunity to write about a subject that there is nothing to write about, while looking down on what that’s on the web,” says Peter Hunt, a former BBC royal correspondent.


This is the second time in four months that British media have refused to publish information about the royal family, even after it was broadcast on social media. In November, newspapers did not publish the names of Catherine and King Charles III after they were identified in the Dutch edition of a new book as those who asked about the skin color of the unborn child of Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan.

This withholding only ceased after a television host, Piers Morgan, revealed the names on his show. Buckingham Palace said at the time it would consider legal action, but it took no action.

The erroneous announcement of Catherine’s participation in the Color Salute could well be nothing more than a bureaucratic blunder. The army had indicated on its website that Catherine, honorary colonel of the Irish Guards, would review the soldiers who are to parade during the ceremony on June 8.

But a royal spokesperson reacted by indicating that the princess’s agenda was a prerogative of Kensington Palace and that nothing was confirmed. Kensington Palace declined to comment on the participation of Mr Goldsmith, who is Carole Middleton’s younger brother, in Celebrity Big Brother.

In 2017, Mr. Goldsmith, 58, a former technology entrepreneur, pleaded guilty to assaulting his wife, Julie-Ann Goldsmith.

A promotional video for the show shows a jubilant Gary Goldsmith saying: “Climbing people through curtains is probably my favorite hobby. My entire being is made of mischief and danger. »

Then he adds: “Living with me is a real nightmare. It’s not for nothing that I had four wives. »

This article was published in the New York Times.

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