Jewish World Review Nov. 13, 2003 / 17 Mar-Cheshvan, 5764
Are the Brits finally learning that the risks of suppressing or banning speech are greater than allowing it and then punishing the violators?
Why an undisclosed incident not reported by the British press allegedly involving Prince Charles and some unidentified former aide is creating what MSNBC's editor-in-chief Jerry Nachman called, a "Monty Python" week in the world of journalism. More importantly, it exposes the problems of the British legal system when it comes to the press.
Last Sunday "The Mail" on Sunday newspaper was prepared to publish a story, which would quote an aid to Prince Charles describing an encounter between a senior royal and a male staffer. Presumably, that royal is Prince Charles. Since Charles' office denied the non-story saying "The allegation was that the Prince of Wales was involved in the incident. This allegation is untrue. The incident, which the former employee claims to have witnessed did not take place."
What incident? Well, everyone in the press there knows, but they're not allowed to say. A judge ordered them not to publish the allegations. In fact, initially another paper, "The Guardian", was even prevented from reporting on "The Mail's" court battle. They couldn't even say who had obtained the injunction.
Instead there was innuendo. One paper had a headline, which read, "Prince Charles, Bisexual?" And then later described his denial.
Look, I'm not defending this type of journalism. It sounds like these allegations are pretty unsubstantiated and coming from a dubious source. But getting a court to step in won't stop the rumor mill and in fact, I think this trashy stuff shows how important our First Amendment is-a rule of law the British have not adopted. This has become a far bigger story because now everyone is guessing, reading the Internet, talking about rumors, when you have to imagine things can seem bigger or worse than they actually are. And when a court rules that this is too explosive even to say, it can make many feel like it's scary but true.
Maybe the British are learning that the risks of suppressing or banning speech are greater than allowing it and then punishing the violators.
That's the key.
Here this would likely come and go in a tabloid morass. The prince would have either ignored it or denied it and maybe sue the paper and if they were reckless or knew it was false-that paper might be out of business. Instead, he's denied an unidentified incident with an unidentified participant. Apart from the fact that it just sounds silly, the mystery may be making it worse for the prince.
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