The Crown and the Media – from phone hacking to the Dyson report

22nd May 2021

If anyone doubted the often indirect power of the crown in the public affairs of the United Kingdom then this week’s media news about the Dyson report is a useful reminder.

A reporter fabricated documents so as to engineer an introduction to a member of the royal family and then lied about it.

This sort of ‘blagging’ – as  some of those in the media would call it – was one of what was once euphemistically described as the ‘dark arts’.

And as a result of the exposure of this dishonesty, the future of the BBC (itself founded by royal charter) is now uncertain.

To throw the future of the United Kingdom’s state broadcaster into doubt requires a significant intervention.

It is an example of how the presence of a royal element to a story can electrify things.

And it is not the first time.


The phone hacking scandal – which affected the press in a way that the Dyson report may affect the BBC – also came about because it had a significant royal element.

In short: the telephones of the royal household were hacked – just as the telephones of celebrities and newsworthy non-celebrities were hacked.

(Hacking was another of those ‘dark arts’.)

But because the target was the royal household, a different part of the metropolitan police became involved instead of those parts of the metropolitan police that the press then had a close (and mutually advantageous) relationship.

This in turn led to a police raid of a private investigator’s office, and the documents then seized in turn were a media-legal time-bomb which exploded when disclosed about the time of the Millie Dowler murder trial.

The story is set out in this thread by James Doleman, who reported on the trials (and with whom, I must add, I disagree on other issues):


Had the mobile telephones of the royal household not been hacked then it is plausible that – even now – we would not know anything about the real extent of telephone hacking.

Such is the indirect power of the crown in our public affairs.


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10 thoughts on “The Crown and the Media – from phone hacking to the Dyson report”

  1. That sounds like an argument for retaining the royalty…

    It is not this latest exposé that leads the BBC to be threatened, it is the fact that this government seeks to bring them down.
    The BBC had a clear and essential duty to fair and balanced reporting, and while they might neglect that duty to such an extent that we might almost forget that it exists, the fact is that it does and they are accountable.
    The risk of the BBC being held to account and forced to provide a proper balance is too much for this government to bear, so they want it gone.

    Here it seems to me that there is an obvious answer, and my apologies to regular readers because it is getting boring, but if I am wrong then show how I am wrong and I will shut up about it.

    The senior officers of the BBC to whom the concerns were raised, who dismissed those concerns without a second thought had a duty to properly investigate them.
    They neglected that duty and they did so to such an extent that it was an abuse of the public’s trust.
    That is simply criminal and they should be prosecuted for it.

  2. I am reminded s that Martin Bashir did a programme on “The Cheating Major” – the guy who was convicted along with his wife and another of cheating on “Who wnats to be a Millionaire” – a programme I always felt was unconvincing and left me wondering whether Major Ingram was wrongly convicted.

  3. Priti Patel is saying the BBC’s “reputation is highly damaged”. “Lessons will have to be learned.” But this happened 25 years ago. Other scandals have been exposed in that time frame, some arguably worse, though the sufferers were not royal. These exposures have already focused the BBC on paying proper attention to risks of misbehaviour (eg, Savile) and proper reporting methods (eg, Cliff Richards). The BBC has been reformed both in legal structure and culture in response to these and other issues of propriety. I really think we learn nothing new that has not already been addressed institutionally by the BBC, though there may be consequences for individuals.

    What this is actually about, as HairyLoon says, is the present government’s self-interest to do mischief to one of the few things about Britain that other countries envy.

    1. The reputation of the British Government in general, and the Home Office in particular, have been “highly damaged” by the behaviour of the current government and its ministers in just the last year and a half. I don’t need to recount the long list of problematic actions, variously unwise, illegal, corrupt or immoral – right now, not 25 years ago.

      Lessons should be learned, but somehow I doubt it will happen while the Prime Minister marks his own homework and that of his collaborators in office.

      What do they think the history books are going to say about them in 30 or 50 years’ time?

      1. The prime minister only gets to mark his own homework because the British public allow him to.
        The prime minister has a duty to mark that homework properly and if he neglects that duty, then it may amount to a criminal offence for which he should be prosecuted.

        But who is going to prosecute if nobody bothers complaining to the appropriate authorities?

        1. I wish you luck in working out which is the appropriate authority to bring a prosecution for breach of the ministerial code, or indeed for failing to sanction a minister for such a breach. Just like impeachment in the US, an administrative or quasi-judicial matter has been turned into a political matter. Does the public have any real remedy short of the ballot box?

          1. The appropriate authority for dealing with crime is generally the police.
            They are reluctant to look into crimes of this nature because they look like politics, and on the whole it seems that the public are content to let them.
            There was an attempt at a private prosecution not so long back, of Boris Johnson for the lies on the bus, but that failed, allegedly because the judge was a bit bent, but officially because he wasn’t telling the lies as a public officer: he wasn’t wearing his mayoral hat at the time (metaphorically speaking).
            The judgments are here, you can make your own assessments.


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