LONDON -- Diana, the Princess of Wales, has been caught out leaking to the press. In doing so she may have done British journalism a good turn, if not her husband or herself.
It's not something everybody is surprised at. All those tabloid hacks who follow her around everywhere she goes knew it all along. The Andrew Morton book about her bulimia and suicide attempts, "Diana, Her True Story," it is known, was based on sources among her friends; she encouraged them to speak to Mr. Morton.
The reporters who cover the royals always have assumed such leaks were her way of hitting at Charles, the Prince of Wales, the distant future King of England for whom she is known to have little affection. And probably they were right.
Princess Diana's uses of the press to put her side of the Charles/Di story to the public were made known by Lord McGregor of Durris, the chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, an agency which handles grievances against the media. She "has in practice been invading her own privacy," he said.
His revelation has done more than simply debase the princess's reputation or stir up once again the caldron of royal scandal.
It has apparently deflected efforts by right-wingers in the Conservative Party to institute new measures against the press. These are contained in a report by Sir David Calcutt. Leaked over the weekend, they propose creating a government tribunal to punish what it would decide were press transgressions, invasions of privacy, etc.
The reaction to these proposals among London editors and publishers has been a blend of fire and fear. They see them as an attempt to impose direct government censorship. Even outside London the response is vehement. Said Nigel Hastilow of the Birmingham Post: "These regulations are the thin edge of a wedge. Ifthey are passed it will soon be possible to censor stories to the point where we become anodyne newspapers working on government handouts."
In fact, the mere existence of the Calcutt proposals apparently had an intimidating effect on one newspaper, The Sunday Times. The editor, Andrew Neil, said the paper declined a story published in an Australian magazine embarrassing to Prince Charles (reportedly the transcript of an intimate conversation between him and his lady friend, Camilla Parker Bowles, in 1989).
So how did the princess help out?
Well, it seems that the whole move to throw another strand around the neck of the press originated in a desire on the part of certain Tory conservatives to curb what they saw as intrusions on the privacy of the Royal Family.
Last year scandal after scandal, especially those involving the disintegrating marriages of Queen Elizabeth's children, gave the impression the tabloids had the palace bugged, or had access to the royal bedchambers and their secrets. Some of the motives of these Tories were probably chivalric -- the idea being to defend the dignity of the monarchy.
Now that it is revealed that the princess was less an innocent victim as a manipulative participant in the dissemination of information about her marriage, much of the justification for the Calcutt enterprise falls away.