EDITORIAL: Palace forgot PR nous over Mirror

The natural response of any organisation that has just received a mauling from the media is to become defensive and attempt any trick that might possibly bring that mauling to an end. The challenge for the organisation's PROs is to achieve closure while avoiding any precipitate action that would only serve to aggravate the situation.

Few would disagree with the above, but when a genuine situation arises, some PROs still fail to put that knowledge into practice.

The circumstances of the Daily Mirror's ongoing battle with Buckingham Palace's PR department prove the point. It has taken a good three weeks for the real impact of the Mirror's 'fake footman' scandal to become apparent, but now it has, it is yet another case of misguided good intentions having the reverse effect from that which was planned.

To summarise, the Mirror placed a reporter undercover in the Palace as a footman - with apparent ease and only the most cursory of security checks. It made public its expose of royal security flaws on the day US President George W Bush came to stay with the Queen. The paper claimed a public interest defence and expressed surprise that the monarchy's response to the publication of pictures of its bedrooms and breakfast tables was anything other than gushing gratitude.

Following this, and the legal battle that ensued when the Palace was granted an injunction on further publication of the Mirror's material and got a portion of its costs paid, the paper hit out again this week.

It claimed that royal press secretary Penny Russell-Smith had barred Mirror reporters from the OBE investiture of David Beckham, and from those planned for rugby hero Jonny Wilkinson and veteran rocker Mick Jagger.

Palace sources dispute this, pointing to what they claim are routine rota procedures for deciding which media organisations will be granted access to which investitures and insisting that although 'sometimes we have a facility for extra people on a first-come, first-served basis,' the Mirror simply missed the cut.

This may all be true, but there are wider points at stake. Given the Mirror's recent involvement with Palace affairs and the embarrassing legal spat, was there not a case to be made for some latitude in the normal rota rules so as to head off yet more bad publicity?

And in the first instance, the neat response would have been to thank the Mirror for its work and invite it to take part in the security review, rather than the knee-jerk injunction reaction that served no-one's interests.

Above all, there seems to be a lack of understanding that what the media wants is stories. The result is the sort of mauling the Palace set out to avoid in the first place.

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