The Media Column: 'Prince William and the press are friends again. But for how long?'

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The Independent Online

The interview that Prince William gave at the weekend- exclusive to all newspapers, as Private Eye used to enjoy saying - was not terribly enlightening. That may have something to do with the fact that his words, distributed by the Press Association, were choreographed by St James's Palace. As the News of the World revealed (in a show of honesty not seen elsewhere), "If William seemed to have all the answers, it was because William and his aides set all the questions."

Consequently, the 21-year-old was able to give away little. On being future king: "It's all about helping people and dedication and loyalty." On the Queen: "She's incredible... one of the biggest role models I have." On the Queen again: "I think my grandmother is incredibly good at managing the different aspects of being sovereign and putting across the monarchy." On the Queen yet again: "What she's done for this country is amazing."

Those words were the latest manifestation of the hands-off pact between the palace and the press. The deal is as simple as it is well known: if the prince provides a few tasty morsels for the newspapers from time to time, reporters and photographers will leave him alone to get on with his studies at St Andrews University. And it appears to suit all sides - not least a press that fears that one day it may encounter a prime minister who is not scared of imposing a privacy law (not this one, obviously).

To return to the interview, the pact is the one subject on which the prince did have something interesting to say - though he did not, of course, draw explicit attention to its existence. "They [the media] have been really good about the whole thing, and I am sure they have been very frustrated at the same time," said William of his would-be tormentors. "I don't think either side wants to return to the free-for-all of the old days. It's a really fine balance, and it could be quite volatile if things get out of hand." He would be "gutted" if his hard-won freedom from the prying lens disappeared.

There have been hitches, of course. In March, the News of the World felt that the royal hand-outs were getting too meagre, and broke its side of the deal by publishing a paparazzi picture of the prince on a shopping trip. Then The Mail on Sunday jumped in, showing William massaging the feet of a female friend - snigger, nudge - at a rugby tournament. Those breaches led to the predictable official complaints and, probably, the recent rounds of interviews and video footage showing what a normal kinda guy the heir to the heir to the throne is.

So, everyone is friends again. But for how long? William will leave university in two years. He will be 23 years old, and the palace will have to come up with a new excuse as to why he should be left alone. Will it be able to conjure one up? I doubt it.

At the moment, the tabloids are not making waves. When I spoke about William with Clive Goodman, the News of the World's royal editor, on LBC 97.3 at the weekend, he said: "You can't speculate on what will happen in two years' time. It depends entirely on what he does."

He added that newspapers have "moved on" from the days when they jumped all over Diana, Princess of Wales. "I think you are getting trapped in a bit of an Eighties time warp," he said. We shall see.

* So Fox News, the gung-ho, US-based news channel owned by Rupert Murdoch, is not biased. We know this because the Independent Television Commission (ITC) has rejected complaints that the station, available over here on Sky Digital, broke the ITC programme code, which insists on "due impartiality" in matters of political controversy. "Due" apparently means "adequate or appropriate" - and Fox's take on events is appropriate, in the sense that it comes from abroad, where they do things differently.

Maybe you have missed Fox News. If, for example, you were out of the house on the million-strong anti-war march in London in February, you won't have seen the way it reported what was arguably the biggest demonstration the capital had ever seen. Its headline tells you all you need to know: "March Madness".

This is the news channel whose presenter Bill O'Reilly told viewers that America should go in and "splatter" the Iraqis. Even some of the people from our own Sky News are shocked by Fox - and they helped to set the channel up.

Yet I am pleased that the ITC did not pull the plug on Fox. I think we are strong enough to take Rupert's amusing medicine. Now that David Brent has gone, the men and women from Fox News are the funniest people on television.

v.graff@independent.co.uk

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