LETTER from THE EDITOR

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Torrents of letters from readers have continued to arrive here, in the wake of Diana's funeral. The sheer weight of correspondence means some replies are being delayed. Apologies; I am going as fast as I can. But what of their content? This is clearly one of those stories where an editor cannot win. The paper has been savaged by some of you as a sneering republican rag, while others think I am a slack-jawed monarchist stooge; some felt we were ludicrously pro-Diana, and others that we were ludicrously not; I have had letters complaining about far too much, too chocolate- sticky coverage; I have had others asking whether any of us here have a heart.

Did we get everything right? Of course not. Was the overall balance wrong? Looking back, we may see the time as one of mass hysteria, in which the paper was implicated, but the feelings were real enough at the time. It's hard for me to be objective, but I felt we kept the balance and tension this paper depends on. What is clear is that the death and mourning provoked strong responses of an unpredictable kind. I was wryly amused by the Scottish reader who politely explained that The Independent had done very well, but that he felt obliged to make a stand against the tabloids and, since he didn't read a tabloid, had decided to cancel the Indy instead. Another reader wrote similarly. I also enjoyed the reader who said he had agreed with almost everything in the paper; but he bought The Independent to be provoked; and could we make sure it didn't happen again.

Editors are required to take criticism on the chin; the customer is always right, and all that. Even so, perhaps I could note that intemperate and offensive language doesn't help the case; one correspondent who described our writers as scum and bitches and myself in less complimentary terms than that, is now outraged that his letter was not published in full. Well, hell, my friend, there are limits.

Many thanks, though, to those who wrote applauding the decision not to use pictures of the princes William and Harry in private situations ever again. Violent arguments have erupted elsewhere in the press, notably between The Telegraph and The Daily Mail, about which editor is the most villainous, hypocritical, and so on. We will continue ploughing our quiet furrow: so far, a few days on, our pro-privacy decision has already obliged me to turn down a possible story. But it was trivial and nasty, so that's fine.

On the other hand, one really substantive point has been raised by a couple of readers: does this ban on intrusive pictures taken in private places apply to bereaved royalty only, or is it for the rest of the country too? The subject was raised in one of our morning conferences and my view is that it must, of course, apply widely. We will look much more cautiously at pictures of people weeping at funerals, and suchlike. But the usual public interest (as opposed to public curiosity) defence applies: politicians taking freebie holidays during the parliamentary session, for instance, are still fair game - embarrassing paunches or not.

It won't be an easy line to tread, partly because so many people want it both ways - they want to blame the gossips, while knowing all the gossip themselves. Such ambivalence about (in this case) newspapers is perfectly reflected in the sales figures for the relevant period. Masses of people were irate about the press, and particularly the tabloids. So what happened? Most papers (including this one) rocketed up in sales... including the tabloids. Baudelaire, was it, who coined the phrase, ``hypocrite lecteur''?

Comments