Andrew and Fergie cartoon

2 Spanish cartoonists have been fined for drawing a cartoon depicting the Crown Prince Felipe and his wife Letizia having sex – see the original cartoon here, and the BBC News article. Make of the cartoon what you want, but there are 2 important issues here: trying to break the taboo about criticizing royals, and free speech. Have we really gone so far in Europe that we dare not make jokes about members of royal families? Do we need to protect them in the same over-the-top way as we do people with ludicrous religious faiths?

Further, what would have happened in the UK if Private Eye had published an equivalent cartoon on its front page (more vulgar in style than my mockup above)? In an interesting piece also on the BBC News website, William Horsley cites a study of 20 European countries with only in the UK and Czech Republic not having seen journalists threatened with prosecution on freedom of speech related issues. Yet unlike most of the rest of Europe, no mainstream UK newspapers were ready to reproduce the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons; maybe the sensitivities of the UK’s media barons are the more important form of censorship. Plus is Nicholas Witchell, the BBC’s royal correspondent, ever going to give a royal a grilling à la Jeremy Paxman versus a Cabinet Minister? Forget it.

Let’s be ready to be critical of the royals, just like in free countries in Europe we can be critical of our politicians. Plus if you’re British, join Republic, the UK campaign to abolish the monarchy.


  1. 3 years on and this article is still relevant. With the BBC being criticised for doing a story about the Queen trying to “raise concerns” about Abu Hamza, rather than questions being asked about the Queen’s role in public life as a non-political actor and how her actions corresponded with that role.
    “BBC apology to Queen over Abu Hamza disclosure
    The BBC has apologised for revealing the Queen raised concerns with the government about why radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri had not been arrested.”

  2. But with journalists campaigning about everything else, why not this too? Get all the journalists on one paper to give some royals a good grilling, and when they refuse subsequent contact use that as the starting point for an investigation into what they spend their time doing, and where the money comes from.

    The royals also go visiting all kinds of places on behalf of the UK, and the impression they make is at best mixed – send some UK journalists following them on their journeys, showing how useless they are.

    When some parts of the press ignore them, and other parts write generally non-critical things, public support is not going to wane.

  3. It doesn’t take journalists to “damage the prestige of the crown” in Britain. The royal family do a pretty good job of that themselves 🙂

    I’ve enjoyed watching the Guardian sail as close as it can to the edge of the libel laws over the Prince Harry and the hen harrier story. Did you see the full page spread with a picture of Prince Harry firing a gun and an inset of a rare bird just in his line of fire?

    There are good reasons why the royals don’t get a grilling from journalists, by the way. Since they’re unelected and unaccountable there’s nothing to stop them refusing to give interviews in future. So upset them and you’ll never talk to them again. I don’t think it’s about a culture of deference (although that is a major part of the problem with Britain’s system of inherited privilege), it’s more pragmatic than that. The danger with serious political interviews is it might also encourage them to think they’re taken seriously. The Independent’s old policy (I don’t think they do this anymore, sadly) of just completely ignoring them wherever possible seems to me to be a more effective way of underscoring their irrelevance.

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