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ACM Home arrow Convenor's Column arrow How did it happen, why was it so late? BBC apology to The Queen.

How did it happen, why was it so late? BBC apology to The Queen. Print E-mail
Written by Professor David Flint AM   
Saturday, 14 July 2007

 

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The BBC story, completely untrue, went around the world.  The Queen had walked out in a huff when Annie Liebovitz asked her to remove her Crown for an official portrait, the BBC said, carrying with it all the authority of that august broadcaster. 

A shot showing The Queen coming in was used to describe her storming out.

When the truth came out, the BBC said it was all in the editing and the trailer was “not intended to be seen” and “was shown in error.”

In a later and separate joint statement, the BBC and the independent production company RDF Media said the film had been edited out of sequence and supplied to the corporation in error.


But one journalist, present when the BBC released the story to the media, says the BBC delayed far too long in issuing the apology, even although it knew the story was wrong.


The BBC’s official position as at 12 July, 2007 was that it had apologised to the Queen and photographer Annie Leibovitz “for mistakenly showing footage which wrongly implied she walked out of a portrait session during a documentary.”

 The programme trailer was launched triumphantly triumphantly to the world’s media on Wednesday at a launch of the BBC's autumn schedule.


The trailer showed the Queen in an exchange with photographer Annie Leibovitz who tells The Queen she will look better without her tiara because "the Garter robe is so..."

Before she can say "extraordinary", the Queen replies, pointing to what she is wearing: "Less dressy. What do you think this is?"

The clip then cuts to The Queen walking through the Palace saying to her lady-in-waiting: "I'm not changing anything. I've had enough dressing like this, thank you very much," implying that she had stormed off from the portrait session.

But in fact, this scene was taken before and not after the exchange with the photographer.


The trailer was to promote a five-part documentary, A Year With The Queen, which is to be shown later this year.  The BBC was given extraordinary access to The Queen to make this.  

 

 

Claim that the BBC knew but delayed apology



 

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The BBC claimed that the BBC1 controller, Peter Fincham, used the sequence "in good faith" and had no knowledge that an error had been made.

But the London Daily Telegraph disagreed. In an audio interview posted to the Telegraph site on 12July, 2007, journalist Andrew Pierce, said that Peter Fincham was now unavailable for comment and the question whether the BBC or the production company did the editing remained unanswered.

Mr. Pierce said that Peter Fincham had introduced his “silly” DVD at the launch with the comment “The Queen lost it a bit and left in a huff.”  Further, Mr. Pierce says that the BBC was warned on Wednesday evening that it “had got it badly wrong” but did not issue the apology until before noon on the next day, Thursday.

In the meantime the world’s media had run the story about “The Queen flouncing out.” (The accompanying picture was used by the media around the world to support the BBC invention that The Queen was angrily pacing the corridors of the Palace.)

Mr. Pierce said that any observer would know that Her Majesty does not “flounce.” He said that the BBC had “deliberately and wilfully published the untrue story. There were a number of Palace staff who saw what actually happened.

The incident comes in the same week the BBC was fined £50,000 after the results of a Blue Peter competition were faked last November.


 I sent this letter to the editor of the London Telegraph:

“The BBC’s release of a completely untrue story about The Queen confirms that the corporation does not seem to have learned the lessons from the Hutton Inquiry, which Tony Blair established following the suicide of Dr. David Kelly.

"These are that an essential ingredient of good journalism is to require the exercise of an independent editorial judgement before any story likely to cause damage is published or broadcast, and that errors be corrected immediately. 

"According to the interview on your website with your correspondent, Andrew Pierce, the BBC delayed apologising until the next day, and in the meantime, the false story went around the world, with at least one Australian newspaper missing the correction.

"That is damaging, and the subsequent apology is unlikely to be published with the same prominence.”

The impact of the BBC’s delay 

  

 

Before the apparently delayed apology was issued the story went around the world, and was posted to the BBC News website. It came to Australia and appeared in at least one newspaper printed early on Friday morning, but others reported the apology. (The accompanying photograph was used to support the BBC's invention that The Queen "flounced " out, muttering to herself.)


 The confusion was such that Daily Telegraph in Sydney correctly reported on page 23  that “ BBC television has been forced to make an embarrassing apology, but unfortunately published an editorial on page 26 based on the untrue story.

This had an unflattering photograph of The Queen and  read:“Her Majesty,it seems was not amused. Being asked by celebrity photographer to remove the crown  from the royal head was simply not to be endured and the Queen withdrew in ill temper. Imagine the cheek. We assume it’s the Tower for the outrageous Miss L.”


So I sent this letter to the Sydney newspaper:

“Your facetious editorial (13/7) on The Queen allegedly walking out in a huff was obviously written before your report, in the same edition, that the BBC had to apologise for this story which was manifestly untrue. More importantly, the BBC does not seem to have learned the lessons from the Hutton Inquiry, which Tony Blair established following the suicide of Dr. David Kelly.

"These are that an essential ingredient of good journalism is to require an independent editorial judgement before any story likely to cause damage is published or broadcast, and that errors should be corrected immediately.  Reports from London say the BBC delayed apologising until the next day, and in the meantime, the false story went around the world.”

On Saturday, 14 July, 2007, in her Daily Telegraph column, Sarrah Le Marquand repeated the story about The Queen’s aside to a lady-in-waiting: “ I’m not changing anything,” after Ms. Liebovitz  asked her to remove her Crown.  

As we know now, this happened before and had nothing to do with Ms. Liebovitz’ request.  Ms. Le Marquand’s comment was however sympathetic to The Queen.


But you can see from this how effective the BBC’s invention could be in establishing as fact something which just did not happen.

  Postscript  

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We all make mistakes, particularly when we rely on our memory. You may find this difficult to believe, but even editors make mistakes, as Professor George Winterton, the eminent constitutional lawyer and leading republican, indicated recently.  

The point is that when you make a mistake of fact, you admit it , as was implicit by the prompt publication of Professor Winterton’s letter without comment in The Australian on 13 July, 2007.

He wrote:-


“Your editorial ("History will judge wisdom of Callinan", 11/7) repeated the oft-cited erroneous comment that then deputy prime minister Tim Fischer called Justice Ian Callinan ( pictured above) a capital "C" Conservative at the time of his appointment to the High Court of Australia.

That was not in fact what occurred.

Justice Callinan's appointment was an­nounced on December 18, 1997, more than nine months after Fischer had called for a capital C Conservative to replace Chief Justice Brennan. In fact, Justice Callinan replaced Justice Toohey; Chief Justice Brennan was replaced by Justice Murray Gleeson.”

 

 
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