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C4 stands firm on Diana film

By Cathy Newman

Updated on 05 June 2007

Princes William and Harry say their mother must be protected - but Channel 4 will show tomorrow's documentary on Diana's death

In death as in life Princess Diana still exerts a magnetic pull on the world's media. Almost a decade after the tragic car crash that claimed her life, a documentary about her final hours is creating a media storm even before its broadcast.

'Put simply, if it were your or my mother dying in that tunnel, would we want the scene broadcast to the nation? Indeed, would the nation so want it?'
Jamie Lowther Pinkerton, royal aide

The Channel 4 programme shows new pictures of the princess being helped by the emergency services. The broadcaster says there's a public interest because of the conspiracy theories surrounding her death. Her sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, believe Channel 4 has breached the privacy of her death scene.

The Princes' private secretary, Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton, wrote to the broadcaster on Friday, saying the photographs:

"... are redolent with the atmosphere and tragedy of the closing moments of her life....As such, they will cause the Princes acute distress if they are shown to a public audience, not just for themselves, but also on their mother's behalf, in the sense of intruding upon the privacy and dignity of her last minutes.

Put simply, if it were your or my mother dying in that tunnel would we want the scene broadcast to the nation? Indeed, would the nation so want it?"

Should the film be shown?

Channel 4's plan to broadcast images of the Paris car crash has brought it into conflict with the late Princess' sons and friends, one of whom called the decision "absolutely disgusting".

Our north of England correspondent Nick Martin asks the citizens of Manchester what they think, and in London Alex Thomson ask the same of Henry Singer, the director behind the Falling Man documentary that caused similar uproar.

Watch the report

Clarence House asked Channel 4 not to broadcast photographs showing the crashed car, or a medic administering emergency treatment. Channel 4 News has seen the controversial images but is not broadcasting them.

Four have not been shown in the UK before. They include two photographs taken after the crash, showing policemen and firemen looking at the Princess in the back of the car.

The documentary aims to tell the story of the paparazzi who were arrested on the night of the crash. Princess Diana's brother was in no doubt they were to blame for hounding her to death.

Some TV critics who have seen the documentary say it's a well-researched, tasteful piece of work that rightly exonerates the photographers. Others say that in the rush for ratings, it tramples on Diana's grave.

The rule on Harm and Offence says viewers should be protected from "harmful or offensive material", including "violence... distress... and violation of human dignity..." But broadcasters can justify such images depending on the editorial content of the programme, and the degree of offence likely to be caused.

Channel 4 must also consider the rules on privacy, covering "victims of accidents... even in a public place". Broadcasters should:

"...try to reduce the potential distress to victims and/or relatives when making... programmes that examine past events".

Again, invasion of privacy can be justified in some cases, including "exposing misleading claims made by individuals or organisations".

Tragedies such as the 7/7 bombings challenge broadcasters to balance reporting the events with consideration for the victims. Broadcasters including ITN, makers of Channel 4 News, have agreed to family requests not to show certain pictures form the London Bombings.

But Channel 4 recently won considerable critical acclaim for a documentary featuring a picture of a man falling from the World Trade Centre during the September 11 atrocities.

Executives at the Channel are clearly nervous about this latest controversy - so soon after the celebrity Big Brother racism row. Just last month Channel 4 was ordered to make a series of on-air apologies by the TV watchdog for serious editorial misjudgements.

One executive didn't rule out pulling some of the images of the princess, and promised to keep listening to audience concerns. There's less appetite to take risks at a time when the political landscape is changing.

Some of Gordon Brown's allies believe the latest row gives the prime minister-in-waiting the ammunition he needs to privatise Channel 4. A prominent Brownite MP told me he was "outraged" by the Diana documentary, which he described as "ridiculous prurience" which hadn't helped the channel's case for remaining in the public sector.

Ministers say the issue has been discussed within government, but that no decisions have been taken.

Not for the first time - nor most likely the last - the Princes have spoken out to protect their mother's memory. Clarence House has yet to decide whether to complain to Ofcom, the TV watchdog, about a breach of privacy if Channel 4 broadcasts the programme.

But viewers may do the job for them. Several hundred have complained about the documentary before seeing a single frame.

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