I submitted the following piece to Comment is Free yesterday, but I just received a very nice e-mail saying they weren't able to use it; not because of the content of the piece itself, but because somebody might identify the mystery royal in the subsequent comments. I quite understand their difficult legal position, and I don't blame them at all for playing safe. But there's more than a dash of irony here, since the piece isn't really about the blackmail case or about the identity of some minor aristo, but about whether there's any point in the mainstream media being prevented from mentioning something that's bouncing around the interweb like a picture of Lindsay Lohan's naughty bits.
So the article appears here, on the condition that nobody - I said nobody - reveals who did or didn't get the drugs and/or the blowjob. Otherwise we'll all end up in the Tower, and I don't mean Blackpool.
As I write this, I don’t know the identity of the member of the royal family alleged to be the target of a blackmail attempt over allegations of sex and drugs. It’s 5 a.m. in the UK, and most of my media narks will be asleep. Google is as yet unforthcoming.
By the time you read it, however, I probably will know, and so will many of you. The news won’t appear first in the newspaper that broke the story, nor in those papers that followed it up: the heavy hand of libel and contempt legislation will see to that. But I reckon that at sometime in the near future I’ll get an e-mail from someone who’s overheard something, or a site beyond the control of English law will catapult the appropriate tidbit around the world.
To be honest, I’m not that bothered. Back in the early 90s, the Windsors were beset by lurid tales of tampons and toejobs that make the current vague, prim insinuations ("a sex act", for crying out loud) sound like pre-watershed stuff.
In any case, more important questions remain. The first is whether the mainstream media, in Britain at least, will ever again be able to break a proper, meaty sex-and/or-drugs scandal about a major public figure. By the time the libel lawyers deem it safe to go above ground, the juiciest details will be popping into in-boxes around the world.
In 2002, when John Leslie was the centre of nasty (and, it transpired, unfounded) allegations, newspapers and broadcasters weren't permitted to name him, even though his identity was common knowledge far beyond media circles. More recently, Alisher Usmanov may have wreaked havoc in his efforts to silence Craig Murray's allegations, but those allegations are available to anyone with internet access. Cases like these, and the current royal scandal, bring into doubt the future of English libel laws: not because they are too draconian, but because it is so easy to subvert them.
The other lingering puzzle is why the Sunday Times broke the story in its half-baked state, knowing full well it couldn’t offer the most significant details. Everyone will wonder who the person at the centre of the brouhaha is, and the speculation will encompass individuals who are entirely blameless. Beyond that, there will be questions about how the video at the centre of the story made its way into the hands of the alleged blackmailers, thus raising questions about corruption and lack of security at the heart of the Windsor family.
Rupert Murdoch’s republican tendencies are well known: by laying off the key figure, his newspaper has potentially done far more damage to the overall institution of the British monarchy than a comprehensive name-and-shame job would have done.
Still, at least people might shut up about the Diana inquest for a couple of days.