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British Press Pledges Restraint

By Dan Balz
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, September 9, 1997; Page A01

LONDON, Sept. 8British newspaper executives, hoping to head off government action after searing criticism from Princess Diana's brother that they had hounded her to her death, pledged new steps today to restrain future news coverage of her two sons.

The editor of the Independent promised that his newspaper will never again carry a photograph of Prince William or Prince Harry in a private setting, while the owner of a leading tabloid said his papers will refrain from running intrusive photos "except where they are considered necessary" -- although he left himself room to reconsider for competitive reasons.

Meanwhile, officials at Buckingham Palace confirmed that on Saturday, Earl Spencer, Diana's brother, had rejected an overture from the royal family to restore Diana's title of "Her Royal Highness," which had been removed after her divorce from Prince Charles a year ago.

The efforts at self-regulation by the media came in the wake of Spencer's bitter attack on the press in his remarks at Saturday's funeral for Diana. Spencer said his sister never understood why her acts of charity "were sneered at by the press" and said the media's "permanent quest to bring her down" had turned her into "the most hunted person of the modern age."

Today, in a front-page editorial, the Independent said enough was enough. "We will never publish pictures of the young princes, William and Harry, in private situations again," the editorial said. "On state occasions maybe, or on matters of constitutional significance, but even then we will be sparing."

The Independent is a broadsheet, or standard size, newspaper, not a tabloid, and it has resisted the extreme pursuit of Diana that many tabloids have practiced. But the editorial by editor Andrew Marr said all papers should be chastened by what has happened.

"If we are not all sadder and wiser, we damned well ought to be," the editorial said. "The hunt became a blood sport. The quarry dead, let us find gentler pursuits."

The Independent's comments were echoed by others. Max Hastings, editor of the Evening Standard, one of the more restrained tabloids, said in a radio interview today, "I doubt if there's a journalist around the country who hasn't spent a good deal of time over the weekend thinking about the response to Earl Spencer's words in Westminster Abbey on Saturday."

He said a combination of public pressure and press restraint are needed to correct the problem. "The overwhelming responsibility must rest with us to run our newspapers decently," he said. "But the surest sanction for making sure that self-regulation works is that people stop buying newspapers that behave abominably."

Lord Rothermere, the chairman of the media firm that owns the Evening Standard and the Daily Mail, another major tabloid here, said press executives should take steps to police themselves, in part to prevent new legal sanctions from being imposed.

As a first step he announced a ban on "all intrusive pictures" except those deemed necessary for news purposes. But he left open the possibility that competitive pressures might force reconsideration of the pledge.

In a telephone interview, Rothermere said such a decision "can only be made by a proprietor, and I'm hoping that my colleague proprietors will agree with me that some restraint needs to be practiced."

Rothermere said the press must act to police itself. "Otherwise we are going to get privacy legislation, that is clear," he said. He added that once government intervention begins, in whatever form, "it will be completely uncontrollable. It will be a nightmare."

Separately, the Sun, another tabloid, said in an editorial that it has "no intention of carrying photographs which invade the privacy of Princes William and Harry."

The moves toward self-regulation came as the chairman of the official Press Complaints Commission, Lord Wakeham, announced he will begin discussions with tabloid editors about how to respond to the complaints voiced by Diana's brother and others over the last week.

The Press Complaints Commission is a newspaper-industry organization created in 1991 for the purpose of self-policing the press. The commission's goal in this situation will be to persuade newspaper editors to impose restraints on their own practices as a way of avoiding action by the government.

Prime Minister Tony Blair applauded the actions of the commission, saying everyone, including the press, must learn lessons from the death of Diana.

Meanwhile, officials at Buckingham Palace acknowledged that, hours after the funeral Saturday, Diana's brother was approached about giving Diana back her royal title, taken away after her divorce.

"Buckingham Palace has confirmed that it consulted the Spencer family on Saturday afternoon on the matter," the palace said in a statement. "Their very firm view was that the princess herself would not have wished for any change to the style and title by which she was known at the time of her death. The Spencer family itself also did not wish for it to be changed."

In his tribute Saturday, Spencer made reference to the issue in a barbed comment aimed directly at the royal family. He called Diana "someone with a natural nobility who was classless, who proved in the last year that she needed no royal title to continue to generate her particular brand of magic."

Spencer issued a statement today thanking people throughout the world for their expressions of sympathy. "I would like to thank all the people, from all over the world, who have communicated their grief at Diana's loss to me and to my family over the past eight days," he said.

He added, "The knowledge that Diana's life gave so many people so much, can now be balanced by the hope that, in death, her legacy will be immortal."

At Althorp, the Spencer family estate, many of the flowers left by the public during the past week were moved to the small island where Diana was buried on Saturday.

Officials said they will begin to remove the mountains of flowers left at Kensington, Buckingham and St. James's palaces and elsewhere later in the week and will distribute many of them to hospitals and other institutions serving the elderly and children. Officials also said they will attempt to collect and preserve the hundreds of thousands of personal messages for Diana that have been left with the flowers.

Also today, the leader of the Conservative Party, William Hague, joined others who have called for London's Heathrow Airport to be renamed for Princess Diana.

Although the period of mourning for Diana continued today, government leaders began turning their attention in earnest to Thursday's vote in Scotland to create a parliament there for the first time in 300 years. Diana's death had brought a suspension in campaigning, but today Blair spent the day in Scotland urging voters there to support his government's referendum and to give the parliament the power to levy taxes.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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