Friday 13 July 2007

Nice old lady loses temper: national institution in crisis

The fuss over the BBC and the Queen's alleged temper tantrum is completely overblown and feels like one of those synthetic scandals that the tabloid press loves to cook up from time to time. You can't turn on the radio today without hearing BBC journalists indulging in bouts of corporate self-flagellation. I suppose they think this will show that they can report on themselves in a disinterested fashion - and convince the Establishment that they are really, really sorry. They've yet to feature a single commentator saying that, actually, the whole thing has been over-hyped and is not the major national scandal that the press thinks it is.

It turns out the offending footage (purporting to show the Queen storming out of a photoshoot with Annie Liebowitz) wasn't even broadcast, but previewed in front of a gathering of journalists. Those journalists greedily latched on to the story and splashed it over yesterday's front pages, only to do a hypocritical volte-face today and condemn the BBC for dissing the monarch. If the episode confirms anything, it's not some spurious 'crisis of trust' in our national broadcaster, but the curious relationship, oscillating between hysterical deference and crude exploitation, that the British press has with royalty.

You can't help thinking that none of this would happen if we were a republic with an elected head of state, rather than a semi-sacred totem who has to remain above even the mildest criticism. Look at the way that programmes like Jon Stewart's The Daily Show regularly use manipulated news footage to lampoon George Bush. OK, so Comedy Central is not a publicily funded organisation, but even so, public figures ought to be able to take a little light satire. After all, saying that someone has a short fuse is hardly the stuff of libel, or to quote today's pompous Telegraph leader 'profoundly shocking'.

Advice to BBC: stand firm, no resignations, no grovelling. Advice to Buckingham Palace minions and flunkeys: they've apologised, now get over it.

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