Britons infuriated by airing of Diana photos

The Daily Mail reported the outrage Thursday on its front page.
The Daily Mail reported the outrage Thursday on its front page.NBC News
/ Source: NBC News

In a country where tabloid excesses have become routine, there is strong sentiment in Britain that this time, it's the Americans who have crossed the line.

The decision by CBS News to broadcast photographs on Wednesday of Princess Diana, dying inside her wrecked car in Paris, has shocked Britain.

London's Daily Express called it "Sick," while the Daily Mail's headline screamed "Fury at TV Photo of Dying Diana." Other papers labeled the decision as "Distasteful, Distressing, and Disgusting."

Diana was 37 years old when she and boyfriend Dodi Fayed died in August 1997. 

French investigators concluded that her chauffeur, Henri Paul, had been driving drunk when he crashed his car into a retaining wall inside a Paris tunnel.

Unofficially, the paparazzi chasing her car through the streets of Paris have been accused of contributing to the crash.

While many of those same photographers snapped pictures of Diana as she lay dying, publishing those photographs in Britain was viewed as taboo by even the crustiest veterans of London's Fleet Street.

In a country renowned for rarely betraying emotion, Diana's death evoked gut-wrenching sadness seven years ago that translated into a very public outpouring of grief.

The images of her children, Prince William and Prince Harry, stoically walking behind their mother's coffin that warm September day are still painful for the millions of Britons who loved Diana.

Diana’s name and face still sell
Diana's name and face are still very much big business. Tell-all books by her butler, her bodyguard and others claiming to have been close friends have been big sellers.

Diana postcards continue to be hot commodities with tourists in London.

But there has always been a line that the street vendors and the tabloids would not cross.  The country that grieved so deeply seemed intent on protecting her children from any further pain by having to view photographs of their mother as she lay dying.

Wednesday's decision by CBS to broadcast the photographs of her last moments even prompted a response from the Prime Minister Tony Blair at a press conference on Thursday.

Blair weighs in
"I think everyone finds it distasteful that there are pictures that can cause distress in the family," said Blair.

Diana's brother, Earl Spencer, said he was "shocked and sickened" by the release of the pictures.

In a statement, CBS insisted the photographs aired on its program “48 Hours” were "placed in a journalistic context — an examination of the medical treatment given to Princess Diana just after the crash — and are in no way graphic or exploitative."

Hours before the program, Dodi Fayed's father, Mohamed Al Fayed, pleaded with CBS News not to air the photographs of Diana and his son. 

"For almost seven years I have been enormously grateful to the world's media for showing good taste and sympathy for the feelings of myself and Diana's boys Prince William and Harry in not publishing these pictures," Al Fayed wrote CBS News President Andrew Heyward. "Do you want to be the man who is remembered as the one who breached this decent pact?"

Royal historian Robert Lacey told Britain's ITN News, "This is definitely voyeurism and ghoulishness of the worst sort."

Buckingham Palace declined to comment on the pictures. However, a palace spokesman did tell Reuters, "We've made our opinion very clear in the past on this sort of thing."

In the past, William and Harry have asked that their mother be allowed to rest in peace.

Diana complained that in life, the ever-present paparazzi never gave her a moment's peace. Almost seven years since her death, she might well have the same complaint. If not for herself, then surely for her boys.