Charles puts press to rights at Fleet Street anniversary

Prince Charles meets Rupert Murdoch

The ghosts of Fleet Street past – 300 years ago to be exact – would have been astonished if they had been in St Bride’s church on Monday to see the Prince of Wales admonishing the great and the good of the present-day UK press.

The Prince used his moment at the pulpit during the 300th anniversary of the Street, which started with the founding of the Daily Courant in 1702, to exhort journalists, editors and proprietors not to let their cynicism eat away at the foundations of British life. He said the press had been "awkward, cantankerous, bloody-minded, at times intrusive, at times inaccurate and at times deeply unfair and harmful to individuals and to institutions."

The Prince asked: "Is it not the case that in the legitimate pursuit of news, in the desire to make information available to the public, to hold public bodies and figures to account, and in its desire to entertain, the media in all its forms sometimes becomes too cynical, too ready to assume the worst – and too eager to focus on the short term?"

As a result, important parts of British life were damaged not because of the failings of institutions, but of individuals within them, he stated, adding: "Scrutiny and exposure of wrongdoing are important. But so is the good that we so often overlook and take for granted."

In the antithesis of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s speech on "wreckers" in our society, Prince Charles urged the media not to run down public service industries, the military, police and civil service.

He said the press and royalty "from time to time are probably a bit hard on each other, exaggerating the downsides and ignoring the good points", but he did pay tribute to the good newspapers do – keeping the public informed, scrutinising those who hold positions of influence, uncovering wrongdoing at a national level, pricking the pomposity of the overbearing and entertaining its readers.

It was left to Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corporation and publisher of four British nationals, to put the newspaperman’s point of view: "We know we must seek to be honest and fair – and try to be fearless.

"In the days of the Daily Courant, newspapers were outcasts. Even now, we know that good newspapermen and women should remain outsiders, remembering that the only popularity we should seek is among our readers.

"The result of Fleet Street’s cantankerous independence is a national press without peer in the world.  We take a shared pride in the certainty that without us Britain would be immeasurably less free – and significantly less entertained!"

The anniversary service, conducted by the rector, Canon David Meara, was organised by the London Press Club in the presence of the Bishop of London.

Readings were given by Peter Stothard, immediate past editor of The Times, Philippa Kennedy, editor of Press Gazette, and Lord Deedes of The Daily Telegraph.

Lord Rothermere read a special prayer for those involved in the events of September 11 and journalists risking their lives in war areas around the world. The Prince unveiled a plaque to commemorate the tercentenary.

 

By Jean Morgan

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