Madonna King: In the fuss over Kate-gate, let’s not lose sight of the real issue

It was meant to be a heart-warming family photo, but it's raised all kinds of questions about trust.

It was meant to be a heart-warming family photo, but it's raised all kinds of questions about trust. Photos: Kensington Palace/TND

The fact that it is the Perfect Princess, not that runaway American, who has plunged the British royals into mayhem and maelstrom simply headlines the long list of ironies unfolding with photo-gate.

And the decision by CNN to audit all photographs provided by Kensington Palace – to rule out manipulation – ensures this story, no matter how much the palace ignores it, will continue to dominate attention.

This isn’t a debate about whether we should have access to the health records of Princess Catherine, our next queen.

It is about one of the oldest and most respected institutions in the world manipulating a photograph, and refusing to answer questions about it.

It has become bigger than that too. If this photograph has been altered or doctored or changed, what other photographs or messages have been massaged?

And herein lies the biggest irony of all. For decades – and with increased vigour after the death of Princess Diana – the royal family has worked to put a brake on media freedoms in covering the palace.

Inquiries, laws, court cases have all fed the public narrative that the palace was subject to a manipulative media that needed to be brought to heel.

And it has been.

But this same palace has been found to be doing exactly what it has accused the media of doing. Manipulating the message.

The ironies continue. It was an attempt by the royals to silence the media and mute questions about the health of the 42-year-old mother of three that prompted the global release of the warm, family photograph that included Prince George.

That was, at least, until we found out it had been faked (perhaps slightly, or perhaps more than slightly; without the palace answering questions or relating the original photograph, we simply don’t know).

Either way, it has been an own goal because the questions have broadened beyond the health of the most popular royal on the planet, to questions about royal authenticity and accountability and whether this is a modus operandi previously employed.

No doubt other media outlets, wanting headlines and accountability in equal measure, will not let go until every other photograph is investigated.

That is sure to provide ongoing anxiety within the palace walls, as well as debate outside about whether the monarchy needs to be more accountable and transparent.

It’s easy to dismiss photo-gate as a sensational tabloid yarn about the unwarranted intrusion into the health of a princess.

That might have even been the case a fortnight ago.

But now it’s something much broader, by the royals’ own doing.

And the fact that the culprits are the young royals charged with bringing doubting monarchists back to the fold after years of scandal makes it even bigger.

This is about truth. It’s difficult to understand why a publicly funded institution, which rules over Australia and every other Commonwealth country, refuses to explain the extent of digital alteration, and whether it has happened before.

In the long term, photo-gate might prove to be more damaging than Prince Andrew’s relationship with Jeffrey Epstein and Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s dash to America and the trail of accusations they left behind.

And those scandals don’t revisit others – like sucking toes and tampon conversations.

The public might not have a right to know details of the princess’s surgery and recovery.

But with the royal family’s taxpayer-funded spending sitting at more than $150 million each year, it does have a right to know whether what the palace says is true. Or false.

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