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There is no constitutional crisis in Britain, just a tabloid crisis

By David Flint - posted Monday, 11 November 2002


A section of the British press is now engaged in its favourite pastime - the hypocritical denunciation of the very sleaze they themselves buy. That chequebook journalism acts as an incentive not only to embellish a story, but even to invent it, has not escaped that attention – and the concern – of the self regulatory British Press Complaint Commission.

In the Burrell case, a prosecution against the butler to the late Princess of Wales, for theft, was withdrawn. His defence was that he had taken her property only for safe keeping. That he had told the Queen this was neither here nor there. As neither executrix nor beneficiary, she could not authorise the safekeeping. The fact is the prosecution case was weak, very weak. The police story that Burrell had sold or attempted to sell some of the property was not supported by any evidence. It is likely that when the prosecution heard that the Queen had confirmed the conversation - something which would not be crucial to the case - they decided to throw in the towel in a case they were likely to lose.

When Burrell sold his story to one tabloid, the others, whom he had spurred, decided to get even. They were helped by a juicy story peddled by an Australian agent. All ready for money of course.

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Now there is nothing new in this unedifying spectacle - except for one thing. The "news" papers are trying to camouflage their trade in sleaze by arguing that this is really about high constitutional principle, and of course, the public's interest. It is neither.

It is only in the interest of those who profit from circulations inflated by sleaze, and those who take the tabloids' largesse.

The Queen is of course not on trial - indeed she has behaved with propriety as her British Prime Minister testifies. Now is there any issue of her accountability - which is - as she has always affirmed to her people and her maker.

British and Australians republicans still cannot overcome their great obstacle - how to graft a republic on to the Westminster system and not damage it. And if anyone doubts this, the tragedy of the Trinidad Republic revealed on the ACM Website by a senior judge, Justice Handley, will demonstrate that every dollar of tax payers' funds spent by Paul Keating and Malcolm Turnbull's Republic Advisory Committee was money down the drain. The model they proposed has exactly the same fatal flaw exposed by the Trinidad experience!

A sleazy circulation war may well be a crisis for the British press, but that does not endow it the gravitas of a constitutional crisis.

Any republican excited by this tawdry affair should go back to the drawing board and leave the gutter to the British Press.

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About the Author

David Flint is a former chairman of the Australian Press Council and the Australian Broadcasting Authority, is author of The Twilight of the Elites, and Malice in Media Land, published by Freedom Publishing. His latest monograph is Her Majesty at 80: Impeccable Service in an Indispensable Office, Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, Sydney, 2006

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