Net rejects royal plea to drop Diana images

Channel 4 cites 'public interest'

U.K. broadcaster Channel 4 has rejected a plea from Princes William and Harry to pull pictures of the wreckage of the car crash that killed their mother from a program about the Princess of Wales' death, arguing that it is "of very serious public interest."

In a published letter to the publicly owned channel, the princes' private secretary, Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton, said the images were "redolent with the atmosphere and tragedy of the closing moments of their mother's life" and said the broadcast of "Diana: The Witnesses in the Tunnel" would cause the princes "acute distress."

The broadcaster previously refused the princes access to a preview copy of the program, set to air today in the U.K., but allowed Lowther-Pinkerton and senior royal aide Paddy Harveson to view a tape of the documentary on Channel 4 premises.

Lowther-Pinkerton has now called on the broadcaster to withdraw images of the car crash in which Diana died as well as a still photograph of the princess being given medical aide in the Pont D'Alma tunnel in Paris in 1997. The princess died after the Mercedes S-Class sedan she was traveling in crashed into a concrete barrier, killing three of the car's four occupants.

"I must ask you not to broadcast those photographs that depict the crashed car whilst the princes' mother lies dying in its wreckage," Lowther-Pinkerton wrote on behalf of the princes. "Also, I ask on the princes' behalf that the shot of the ambulance, with a medic clearly administering emergency treatment to the unseen figure of the princess, not be broadcast. They (the photographs) will cause the princes acute distress if they are shown to a public audience, not just for themselves, but also on their mother's behalf, in the sense of intruding upon the privacy and dignity of her last minutes."

The furor over the broadcast also has drawn in political heavyweights, with Conservative opposition head David Cameron saying that Channel 4 has "got it wrong" and arguing that broadcasting the photos amounts to "prurience."

But Channel 4 head Julian Bellamy has refused to back down despite the mounting opposition in political circles, arguing that the images have been "sensitively" selected and that the princes' objections must be viewed in the context of "a legitimate public interest."

"Channel 4 acknowledges the concerns expressed by the Princes William and Harry about the documentary," Bellamy said. "We would like to make clear that it was not our intention in commissioning this program to cause them distress, and we do not believe the film is in any way disrespectful to the memory of Princess Diana. We have weighed the princes' concerns against the legitimate public interest we believe there is in the subject of this documentary and in the still photography it includes."

Bellamy went on to say that the film has no explicit images of Diana's body or those of her lover, Dodi Fayed, and driver Henri Paul, who also were killed in the crash, and pointed out that tabloid newspapers in Italy and the U.K. have shown some of the photos that appear in the program.

"We made a clear decision from the outset to uphold the consensus quite properly reached by the British media not to use any images that depict the occupants of the car after the crash," Bellamy said. "Those images that are included have been selected with due consideration for the feelings of the relatives of those involved."

The furor comes at a sensitive time for the broadcaster, which last week was criticized by media regulator Ofcom for "serious editorial misjudgments" over the way it handled episodes of racist bullying on flagship entertainment show "Big Brother."

Director of programs Kevin Lygo and chief executive Andy Duncan have yet to respond publicly to the princes' condemnation.