The media needs to “get some morals” in how it treats members of the royal family and has learned nothing since the death of Princess Diana, a psychologist has said on the anniversary of the fatal car accident.
Today marks 24 years after Diana, the then 36-year-old Princess of Wales, died in a car crash in Paris. At the time her driver was allegedly fleeing the paparazzi and the media came under great scrutiny over their role as well as earning the ire of the public.
But two decades later, has the global media changed its tune?
According to Janine Rod, a clinical psychologist and member of the Australian Psychological Society, even in 2021 the press often crosses the line – most recently with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
When it becomes a targeted attack against her (Markle) as a human, not her as a person doing a job, that’s where the media is wrong.
“What the media does is it plays on sympathies, it plays on words, and it’s forgotten that they [public figures] are human beings,” she told Central News.
“When it becomes a targeted attack against her (Markle) as a human, not her as a person doing a job, that’s where the media is wrong. I guess in a way, we need to get some morals back into media.”
The princess’s death cemented a point in time where the media lost some of its admittedly thin polish. And although the world looks different now, and so does the Royal Family, our relationship with privacy and the media has also changed. But not necessarily for the better.
The world of celebrity culture has always been precarious, let alone for royalty, even before the Internet’s bare-all capability.
Gone but not forgotten.😢 Remembering beautiful Princess Diana ❤️ -1961-1997
— Kate Stewart 🇬🇧🌹🇸🇦 (@KateStewart22) August 30, 2021
British newspapers in particular, have a reputation for going the extra mile to invade palace privacy. In the Australian context, while newspapers maintain a generally straight coverage, magazines consistently invent gossip about the royals.
Dr Giselle Bastin, a royal expert from Flinders University, says while the story-hungry British media was initially blamed for the death of Diana they weren’t the only perceived culprits in the public’s crosshairs.
“The media war between Diana and Charles had always favoured Diana,” she said. “At the time of her death, the public was at the height of its fascination and adoration of her. Diana represented ‘the common man’ harmed at the hands of the unfeeling Windsors.
“[In] polls taken the week after Diana’s death, support for the Windsors had dipped to its lowest level in the 20th century.”
Learning from the global shockwaves felt in 1997, the Palace has changed its image priorities.
“Diana’s death certainly changed the way the royals dealt with the media,” added Dr Bastin. “The Windsors went on the attack and took over a lot more control of their public relations strategies.”
At the moment, it’s Cambridges = good royals, Sussexes = bad royals, and the British tabloids continue to make up most of the ‘facts’ about the lives of the whole family.
However, this narrative of the princess, power, and pressure has once again reared its head. The relationship between the media and the Palace’s most globalised members Harry and Meghan, has been far from polite.
But are we seeing the same ingredients for tragedy that reached a tipping point 24 years ago; a controversial royal with exceptional media attention, ruthless media tactics, and a less than necessary requirement for celebrity truth?
“At the moment, it’s Cambridges = good royals, Sussexes = bad royals, and the British tabloids continue to make up most of the ‘facts’ about the lives of the whole family,” Dr Bastin said.
“Certainly, though, the media circus that was running rampant around the Diana and Charles years seems in part to have been toned down. The Palace is a lot more media-savvy these days.”
Princess Diana openly spoke of her experiences with postpartum depression, bulimia, and self-harm. While brave and rare for a royal to talk so openly, how pre-21st century newspapers and tabloids handled mental health issues has been criticised.
We know mental illness is widespread. One in five (20 per cent) Australians aged 16-85 currently experience a mental illness.
In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Meghan Markle referenced her suicidal thoughts after her son’s birth and her ongoing struggles with depression. Yet British broadcaster Piers Morgan, among others, accused her of lying.
Go on then, you gutless weasels – name the supposed Royal racist and let them respond. Otherwise you continue to smear the whole family.
— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) August 25, 2021
So how do we handle our media affair with public figures? Have we learned to balance a worldwide desire for scoops with the reality of ethical boundaries?
Ms Rod didn’t think so, but said it can be complicated.
“There is pressure on an individual because we are surrounded by media all the time… I think it [media attention] works both ways because there’s a love-hate relationship,” she said.
“When the media loves that person, they love the media. But when the media points something out that works against them, then suddenly, they don’t want that following.”
Ms Rod said shared humanity is the key to avoiding future tragedy despite the mutual sycophancy.
“I think that Meghan felt as an American she was going to play the media, and she hasn’t. I think what’s happened is that she’s tried to use the media to gain and win friends, and she hasn’t been able to. What it has done is divided opinion, it hasn’t won anybody friends, it’s created a big divide,” she said.
The grief was genuine for the princess, for the loss of faith in the royal fairy tale, and for a modern world that seemed to have become fractured, violent, hard.
Dr Bastin thinks the global media has to learn from its previous royal mistakes, starting by remembering Diana the person instead of the princess.
“[She had] the ineffability of royalty — a kind of magic fairy dust that gives royal ‘celebrities’ that extra sheen,” she said.
“The figure of Diana takes on extra dimensions in the popular consciousness because she seemed to embody the ineffable essence of royalty and the world of celebrity culture. She represented global fame, complete with a tiara (or two).”
She added it’s hard to imagine 24 years ago, the lustre of royalty was seemingly broken.
“The accident in Paris felt unbelievable, inconceivable: how had this wondrous, wonderful woman died such a typically mortal death?” she said.
“The grief was genuine for the princess, for the loss of faith in the royal fairy tale, and for a modern world that seemed to have become fractured, violent, hard.”