The British monarchy has come under fire as an ex-media boss has said that Buckingham Palace spin doctors reserved the right to censor images from King Charles III’s coronation in May before the live footage could be rebroadcast.

The CEO from the leading anti-monarchy group Republic told Newsweek that the revelation is a shameful but not unexpected example of media manipulation from the royal institution.

John Ryley, former head of Sky News, is quoted in The Guardian newspaper in Britain as referring to the palace’s media influence as Orwellian. This refers to the totalitarian society depicted by George Orwell in his 1949 novel Nineteen Eighty-four. Ryley’s words came during a lecture hosted by the Royal Television Society in London on September 14.

“The royal spin doctors had the opportunity to censor any pictures from the coronation before they could be replayed on the day,” Ryley said.

“And the royal spin doctors dictated which clips of the footage could be shown in future broadcasts in what they called with an Orwellian phrase: ‘a perpetuity edit,'” added Ryley.

Of the revelations made by Ryley, Republic CEO Graham Smith has called for an official review of the monarchy’s links with the media. “The coronation was a publicly funded state occasion. It is shameful that the palace adopts Trumpian methods to manage their image and control the message at taxpayers’ expense,” Smith told Newsweek.

“It is disgraceful but unsurprising the monarchy behaves in this way. But the broadcasters also need to explain themselves. Why do they collude with our head of state and his press office?” Smith asked.

“There needs to be an open, honest review of the relationship between media and monarchy,” he said. “And we need to see a 180-degree shift so that the BBC and others challenge and hold to account the royals, just as they’re expected to with politicians.”

Newsweek approached Buckingham Palace via email for comment.

King Charles III Coronation
King Charles III stands during his coronation at Westminster Abbey, London, May 6, 2023. The monarchy has faced criticism over the rebroadcasting of footage from the public ceremony.
Richard Pohle – WPA Pool/Getty Images

The British monarchy has been criticized in recent months for reportedly exerting control over U.K. broadcasters and the use of footage from national events.

In 2022, The Guardian reported that TV outlets and Buckingham Palace were locked in a dispute over the rebroadcasting rights of footage from Queen Elizabeth II’s state funeral.

Outlets were reportedly told they could compile just a one-hour clip package from the many days of mourning events for the late queen and broadcast live. Both the state mourning events and the king’s coronation were paid for with public funds.

By contrast, royal commentator Richard Fitzwilliams told Newsweek that palace involvement in what content from the coronation was shown in broadcasts was an extension of that which was first enacted in the reign of Queen Elizabeth II to protect the solemnity of the religious event.

“Britain is the only European country still to have a coronation, which is a solemn, religious ceremony. In 1953, when the queen was crowned, it was the first time it was televised, which was highly controversial at the time. The anointing and the communion were not shown,” Fitzwilliams said.

“When King Charles was crowned, it was unsurprising that the anointing, regarded as a sacred moment between the sovereign and God, took place behind a screen.”

This, Fitzwilliams added, showed that the king had some concern over not allowing news cameras complete access to the ceremony.

This is not the first time that the monarchy has faced criticism over its relationship with the media.

In 2021, Prince Harry told Oprah Winfrey that an invisible contract exists behind closed doors between the royal institution and the tabloid press.

Harry added that members of his family were willing to “wine, dine and give full access” to reporters to garner positive coverage for themselves, even if it came at the cost of others.

Harry has cited his family’s alleged collusion with the media and their unwillingness to defend himself and Meghan Markle from tabloid smears as part of the reason the couple ultimately split from the royals and moved to the U.S.

In the couple’s subsequent eponymous Netflix docuseries, Harry’s Spare memoir, and court filings in lawsuits against tabloid publishers, this relationship between the monarchy and media has again been prominently featured.

Buckingham Palace has not publicly responded to Harry’s claims about its links with the press.

James Crawford-Smith is Newsweek‘s royal reporter, based in London. You can find him on Twitter at @jrcrawfordsmith and read his stories on Newsweek‘s The Royals Facebook page.

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