For an organisation in need of friends, the BBC doesn’t half like making enemies. Nobody was crying out for a documentary about the Royal family’s relations with the media and yet the corporation decided to make one, sparking a row with the Palace. Cue dark threats about BBC boycotts; the broadcaster, for its part, refusing to let anyone see the contents ahead of transmission.
Well, what a storm in a royal teacup that turned out to be. The Princes and the Press, on the evidence of this first episode at least, contained no bombshells. Instead, presenter Amol Rajan led us through what we already knew, albeit with some canny insider takes from the royal press pack.
The timeline was laid out. Princes William and Harry developed an early hatred of the press after witnessing what happened to their mother, and later became the victims of phone hacking. William learned to play the game, Harry refused. The media’s love affair with Harry and Meghan turned sour, and paved the way for Megxit.
The Sussex Squad, as Harry and Meghan’s fans like to be known, complain that the media is biased. But here was a reminder that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge took their fair share of flak at one point, with William dismissed as workshy. Rajan wasn’t here to decide whether that was true or not, he explained, but to find out how those narratives took hold. He wanted to explore how “the deal” between press and Palace works, and what happens if one side doesn’t keep their side of the bargain.
That’s not to say that Rajan didn’t share his own opinions. It is clear, he concluded, that “in some tabloid quarters, racially charged tropes were evoked and gave a xenophobic whiff” to coverage of Meghan.
One of the factors that marks out Rajan from his peers is his relaxed presenting style. If he leaned back any further in that chair, he’d be horizontal. It makes his fellow news presenters seem stuffy by comparison. He’s also very smart, but this programme wasn’t his finest work. Perhaps he felt under certain constraints, the BBC having a chequered history when it comes to covering the royals. Remember the BBC One controller having to resign after wrongly claiming that the Queen had stormed out of an Annie Leibovitz photoshoot in a huff? I’m sure Rajan would say he shows no fear or favour, but he also knows when not to overstep the mark.
Bar one former courtier, nobody from the royal side of things was involved in the programme, so instead Rajan interviewed various royal correspondents and commentators. Rachel Johnson made a self-flagellating appearance, admitting that her notorious reference to Meghan’s “rich and exotic DNA” would get her cancelled now and “rightly” so.
Rajan once expressed republican sympathies in print, but he understands the new BBC mantra: personal politics should be left at the door. His journalistic skills failed him only once, when he allowed Meghan’s cheerleader-in-chief Omid Scobie to paint himself as the “only” mixed-race royal correspondent. Technically true, but it ignores the fact that a non-white royal correspondent appeared in this very programme (Roya Nikkhah of the Sunday Times), while the Press Association’s royal correspondent is black. A small fact but – as Prince Harry would say in his fight against fake news – truth matters.