The Calcutt Report: Political and royal stories highlighted: The Establishment

Click to follow
The Independent Online
AFTER an open season of lurid reporting about collapsing royal marriages, topless frolics, and David Mellor, it was inevitable that the treatment of royalty and politicians would be picked out for special analysis.

Sir David says that a large number of the 620 submissions he received dwelt on these matters. One was from Charles Anson, the Queen's press secretary, though the report does not reveal what the Palace had to say.

Sir David says that everyone is entitled to privacy, and that it is only necessary for the public to be informed about matters directly affecting the conduct of public people carrying out public functions. It cannot be right, he says, when the family and friends of people in the public eye are subjected to the same treatment. He also draws attention to the way true reports of adultery can be embellished by colourful false details.

He dwells on the furore over Diana: Her True Story, but does not pass comment on the way in which Lord McGregor, chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, was initially deceived by Palace officials over the involvement of the Princess in telling her story.

Instead Sir David turns the incident against the commission, which he clearly sees as ineffective. This interpretation helps explain why Lord McGregor's full private memo to Sir David was leaked earlier this week.

Of the commission's silence following the deception, he writes: 'This was not a situation which was likely to inspire public confidence in the work of the commission.'

He points to the subsequent lack of action over three Royal stories: the pictures of the Duchess of York and John Bryan, the tape of the Princess of Wales's 'Squidgy' telephone conversation, and the use of photos of the Prince and Princess of Wales looking miserable in Korea, without saying they had been taken at a Remembrance service.

'The lack of public action by the commission may have been understandable (in the light of Diana). But the public could not have been expected to see it that way. To many, the PCC appeared ineffectual.'

Sir David uses the fact that Mr Bryan and the Duchess later won substantial damages in a French court as a reason for bringing in a similar new infringement of privacy law here.

He is also critical of the commission's failure to involve itself publicly in stories about Paddy Ashdown's adultery, after an initial, faltering attempt. He attacks it over its handling of David Mellor's affair with Antonia de Sancha, saying it issued a confusing statement doing 'nothing to increase public confidence in the work of the commission'.

Sir David points out that Patsy Chapman, editor of the News of the World, had threatened to resign from the commission if it said publication of the Mellor story was not in the public interest. Although he does not say so directly, he seems to view the commission as a press body, slanted in newspapers' favour, and hamstrung by having to keep its tabloid editors on board.

He considers why so few public figures, including royalty, have made complaints to the commission. 'Is it that royalty, government ministers, and other public figures are unwilling to make complaints because of their position? Or are they concerned that a complaint would simply attract further publicity?'

Should not the commission have investigated some of these matters and, at very least, have given guidance to the industry for the future, he asks, before concluding it did not have the confidence of the public, or rather, people prominent in public life?

Comments