The Royals Ban Satirical Coverage of Kate and Wills’ Big Day

A video feed rule change and CJR's call for a royal boycott

Finally, CJR finds a Royal Wedding angle.

It comes to us all the way from Sydney, Australia, where the national broadcaster, the Australian Broadcasting Network (ABC), has been forced to cancel a planned satirical special covering Friday’s nups.

The special involved a satirical Aussie troupe known as The Chaser boys—a brilliant and celebrated comedic fivesome who once breached APEC summit security with one among them dressed as Osama bin Laden. The plan was for the satirists to commentate the wedding live on ABC2; more regular and respectful coverage would be featured on ABC1.

Then news came in from APTN over the Easter weekend that footage would not be available for The Chaser to use—a set of restrictions about video feed use, agreed to by Clarence House, the BBC, and APTN, would exclude use by The Chaser. And thus the show has been cancelled. Explains an ABC Online report (our emphasis):

ABC TV was initially advised by the BBC, and subsequently by Associated Press Television News (APTN), there were no coverage restrictions that would prevent The Chaser’s wedding commentary.

But new conditions of use issued by APTN over the Easter break state footage cannot be used “in any drama, comedy, satirical or similar entertainment program or content”.

ABC TV director Kim Dalton says he is disappointed.

“The national broadcaster has acted in good faith in its negotiations around ABC2’s planned coverage with both the BBC and APTN,” he said.

“We’re surprised and disappointed at this very late stage to be informed that any satirical or comedic treatment of the marriage of Australia’s future head of state has been banned.”

[Update: It should be noted that the new conditions of use mentioned here apply not just to APTN video but to all video coming out of Westminster Abbey. Our subhead, which stated “APTN’s rule change,” has also been changed to reflect this.]

The new restriction applies to the feed from the “period from the arrival of the first member of the royal family for the wedding service until the last member of the royal family leaves the main entrance of Westminster Abbey following the conclusion of the wedding service.”

The ABC feels it’s a direct slight on the Chaser boys because other networks—namely Australia’s Channel Nine and Ten—will feature similar, if less barbed, satirists to comment on the nuptials. Dame Edna will be among them.

Julian Morrow, the Chaser face most often in charge of putting out fires and responding to critics, went on ABC TV’s The Drum on Wednesday evening (Australian time) and said that Clarence House, the Royal residence that also acts as an office for the Prince of Wales and his sons, was out of touch for issuing demands that sought to control the way the Royal family was portrayed. His Chaser colleague Chris Taylor has described being taken off the air by the Queen herself as an “honour.”

In response to a question about the change in policy on the APTN feed, an AP spokesperson told me via e-mail:

This restriction on the use of material by non-news programs pertains to video from Westminster Abbey, as agreed between Clarence House, representing the royal family, and all the broadcasters transmitting from the church, including Sky News, which will feed the AP. It will have minimal impact on AP customers since most AP contracts stipulate that the material is for news use, with other programs referred to AP Archive.

“Minimal impact” seems to be exactly the nook in which The Chaser finds itself. (I have e-mailed sources from the ABC for comment, but they’re probably asleep right now.)

A few notes on this from a subject of the British Empire and a fan of The Chaser.

First, is it even possible to take this wedding seriously? A satirical feed, Chaser-style, seems a much more appropriate treatment than the kind of resource-wasting blanket coverage most networks are going with.

Second, American readers should note that there is little to be afraid of. The Chaser team are sharp but harmless. See their schtick here, here, and here. Sometimes they go too far, true, but what trouble can they really cause from a studio some twenty hours by plane away from Westminster Abbey?

Finally, isn’t it odd that the royals can still dictate to the media the conditions under which they can be covered? And equally astonishing that the media would agree to those conditions? If the effect of their rule change is minimal, why not make the case that there is minimal need to change the rules?

On the plus side, the incident has given us this wonderfully overblown lede from The Sydney Morning Herald’s Michael Idato.

Britain’s legislative might, wielded since Australia’s foundation as a colony in the late 18th century, was finally dissolved by an act of our Parliament in 1986.

Yesterday, the cobweb-draped hand of the motherland reached out of the constitutional shadows and took the unprecedented step of threatening to deny the national broadcaster access to the royal wedding.

Well bloody said.

So while this might not be the most egregious slice of semi-censorship taking place in the world today, I still ask readers to join me in protest. Let’s boycott any and all Royal Wedding coverage. Don’t read the dreadful magazine specials headed our way. Ignore the soft-focus TV hours full of British talking heads speechifying all plummy-mouthed on Kate and Will and Di and Charles and Betty.

And, please, most of all, do try your hardest to stay in bed beyond 6 a.m. this Friday (or 3 a.m. on the West Coast). It will be tough, but sleep through it. No doubt the pomp and circumstance of a distant monarchy that has little bearing on your life will be urging you to wakefulness like the nearby smell of brewing coffee. But remember: not everyone will have the same freedom with that video feed as you do. Not even five of the Queen’s own subjects an ocean away.

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Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor. Tags: , , , , ,