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Last Updated: Friday, 21 January, 2005, 15:57 GMT
Harry, the BBC and tabloid issues
By David Kermode
Editor, Breakfast

It's been a week since Prince Harry caused controversy by wearing a Nazi costume. While it's now history for the newspapers, the BBC is still accused of being too tabloid, as this week's NewsWatch programme reports.

Harry leads the BBC News website agenda
The story was the Sun's splash but should the BBC have led with it?

I don't think the Harry debacle was just a tabloid story.

The morning that it broke in The Sun, it was quite obvious that it was a significant news story, because Harry is third in line to the throne and he had been very insensitive.

Of course, we weren't trying to suggest at any point that he had Nazi sympathies, but there were important issues thrown up.

The very fact that the Leader of the Opposition, Michael Howard, was calling for a public apology and the fact that there was an official statement from Israel's Foreign Minister is a measure of the significance of the story.

It threw up a lot of issues around not just Prince Harry's conduct - he is 20 and still relatively young - but around the advice he had been receiving; how was he actually able to go ahead and do this?

There were a lot of people who were demanding answers and being very critical of those around the prince.

There were genuine issues there, over and above the readily acknowledged foolish mistake that Prince Harry made, and I think that we reflected that.

It's true that we did have some sofa chat with commentators but we were able to challenge some of the assertions that some of the more tabloid voices were making.

We had a range of opinion. We didn't just have a queue of people stacking up to say "Prince Harry is an idiot".

Many viewers felt there was too much coverage on the BBC, but the story only really lasted just over a day
David Kermode

We had a much broader range of voices who featured in our coverage.

Was it right to hear from people giving their opinions on the likely impact on the Royal family, on how it would affect Harry's chances of a military career?

Some of the voices that we may have featured in our discussions may not have been traditional BBC voices but they were still legitimate and we needed to feature them.

On the question of tone, the BBC's team of Royal correspondents are a pretty sober bunch really and I think people like Nicholas Witchell got the tone exactly right.

Many viewers felt there was too much coverage on the BBC, but the story only really lasted just over a day.

It was the lead on the Thursday morning across the BBC output and it was our lead the next morning, but it pretty rapidly disappeared after that.

Prince Harry helping with tsunami aid
Harry is news because he is third in line to the throne, the BBC says

The reason it was the lead the following day was that the other morning papers - because The Sun had broken the story - waded in.

So it did develop legs into the next morning but, across the range of BBC output, the story had moved way down the orders on the Friday.

So when do we determine a story has run its course?

We have to ask if there is anything genuinely new left to say or any arguments left that haven't been had already.

If I'm absolutely honest, it became more difficult on the Friday morning and that's why the story disappeared down running orders.

I think it's ultimately a judgment call on what's reasonable.

NewsWatch is broadcast on News 24 every Friday at 2045 and 0045 GMT. It is repeated on Saturdays at 0745 GMT on BBC Breakfast.



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