Letter from the Editor

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The Independent Online
No editor has had an easy week: no editor should have had. The power of the media has made it an almost hated force among many of those mourning Diana. This paper doesn't buy paparazzi pictures, and is broadly in favour of a law of privacy, and generally tries to avoid intrusion. That didn't stop many readers complaining angrily about aspects of the coverage. In particular, I had a thick postbag's-worth protesting about the use of a shot taken of Princes William and Harry through a car window on their way to church at Balmoral. This was an officially-organised picture, and the Press had been invited by Grampian Police and Buckingham Palace to be there - as with the later pictures of the Royals taken publicly in Scotland and London. That explanation, though, didn't cut much ice with some of you. Maybe I was wrong to use it.

The other, bigger issue, though, was criticism of editorials and columns about the affair. About that, I am less apologetic. Some said: how dare we presume to tell Prince Charles how to grieve? (We didn't. We said that if he was more publicly demonstrative - a weep and a hug - he would be more popular, which is a different thing.) Others criticised columns criticising the Royal Family and one suggesting that it should end. Well, this is an open, liberal newspaper. Honest opinion and passionate debate is our lifeblood. After the facts are reported, it is what we are for. So Suzanne Moore takes one view; Rupert Cornwell takes another. Ditto Polly Toynbee and Paul Vallely. Ditto me and, well, lots. We don't do prurient exposes; we do argument and thinking instead. The day I seek to stifle that is the day I should be fired.

Another frantically-debated question is that of moral responsibility for the death of the Princess. The driver's alcohol test - now being contested by the Fayed family - points a finger at him. No one needs to drive at such huge speeds, however many people following on motorbikes with cameras there are. But the paparazzi are to blame too. They create a climate where people feel hounded and take extreme measures to avoid exposing themselves. (And the behaviour of some of them after the crash was clearly disgusting.) Then there were the reports that some British papers had tipped them off. We haven't been able to verify that. Then there is the whole business of who buys what pictures - and for whom. I don't suppose anyone working in the press is unaware this morning of the strangeness of being harangued by people at the same time as sales are high. I don't suppose all those tabloids were bought up by extra-terrestrials and then dumped at sea. Trying to apportion blame in any precise way to different parts of the world around Diana seems to me impossible.

That doesn't mean that we shouldn't re-examine our consciences and behaviour. We'll look harder at any pictures hovering on the borderline than we did before - and we have been reasonably strict. The dilemma for tabloid editors is greater and it will be intriguing to see how they respond. Intrusion and invasive behaviour has been so much part of that market that it is hard to imagine how some newspapers would read without it. Diana herself, of course, sold papers in huge numbers when she was alive; even The Guardian was in on that act. There is no one to replace her. Those who attacked the press for ``killing your golden goose'' spoke bitterly. But there was an element of truth there too.

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