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The royal couple are on shaky ground with tabloid attack

02 Oct 2019  |  Raymond Snoddy 
The royal couple are on shaky ground with tabloid attack

As the Duchess of Sussex sues the Mail on Sunday and Prince Harry launches an 'extraordinary' attack on the tabloid press, Raymond Snoddy asks if any of it is really justified

By any standards Penny Junor is extremely knowledgeable about both the Royal family and the press, and as a royal author and biographer of Prince Charles she is almost certainly a fan of the monarchy.

What she has to say therefore about Prince Harry and the tabloids is particularly instructive.

“Most extraordinary” is how she described the statement attacking the tabloids that accompanied news that his wife Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, is suing the Mail on Sunday for publishing in February a private letter she wrote to her errant father.

The statement, Junor says, is way beyond anything she has ever seen issued by a member of the royal family.

“This feels to me like an over-emotional and somewhat ill-advised outburst,” Junor told The Times.

The editor-in-chief of Majesty magazine Ingrid Seward thinks the Prince should aim his ire more at the vicious trolls of the internet than the royal press pack.

Collectively they seem to spend most of their time wallowing in as much sycophancy as they can get their hands on.

In an unfortunate coincidence of timing the announcement of the lawsuit comes as the popular press has been awash with positive stories about Prince Harry and his Duchess as the snappers got their proper shots of baby Archie at last and Prince Harry retraced the walk through what used to be a minefield taken by his late mother Princess Diana in Africa.

The lawsuit against the Mail on Sunday on the grounds of alleged misuse of private information, breach of copyright and infringement of the Data Protection Act is a relatively easy matter to deal with.

At the very least, such a sensitive letter written to her father Thomas Markle was clearly a personal matter, and the Duchess owns the copyright in the letter written in her own hand. Let’s leave data protection to specialist lawyers but overall it is very difficult to see how the Mail on Sunday can win.

As the paper and its owners, DMG Media, have good lawyers the only assumption can be that they assumed that the royals would take it on the chin and not want to expose themselves to the inevitable worldwide publicity that will be generated by a defended case that will be very difficult to defend.

Millions who had not noticed, or were even aware of the letter, will now read it.

The true public interest in publication is weak – a classic case of what the public may be interested to read is hardly justification enough for what happened.

The fact that Thomas Markle released the contents of the letter scarcely matters in legal terms. He did not have the right to do so and the same applies to the anonymous “friends” who gave interviews to People, the American magazine.

It looks therefore that there is a high chance that the Duchess of Sussex will win a considerable sum in the courts, which will go to an “anti-bullying charity.”

It looks like a bad case of we’ve got it so we will flaunt it.

The Mail on Sunday could have summarised the contents of the letter with much less legal jeopardy. Instead they published the entire damn thing.

So far so good for Prince Harry and the Duchess of Sussex. They are entitled to sue on the grounds stated.

We are also on sensitive ground – the role of rogue paparazzi in the death of his mother and the fact that there was a market for the pictures they obtained. Something at least has been done by mainstream newspapers in the years that have intervened, to curb that disgraceful market and those who profited from it.

Any self-respecting editor governed by codes of practice would now inquire into the provenance of such pictures and whether privacy was breached in their taking.

And yet, as Penny Junor asks, was it wise for Prince Harry to issue his “extraordinary” statement, written apparently by himself without availing himself of any of the extensive advice available?

The Prince draws the obvious parallel with how his mother was treated and argues he does not want his wife to be turned into a commodity.

Fine, but it’s a big step to go from there and the error of judgement by the Mail on Sunday, to launch into a generalised attack on all the tabloid newspapers - the good, the bad and the indifferent.

Perhaps Prince Harry should remember that public support for the monarchy, and the comfortable lifestyle he enjoys, is to some extent generated by the largely positive coverage of the popular press.

It is more than a little naive for the Prince to condemn the double standards of the press when they turn to “positive” coverage after vilifying her “almost daily for the past nine months.”

The Prince adds: “they have been able to create lie after lie at her expense simply because she has not been visible while on maternity leave.”

It is surely not as simple as that. There are well-established mechanisms for calling “lies” to account and correcting errors.

In the internet age they should be used and it is no longer easy for any institution or company – even royalty - to try to stand aloof and do nothing to counteract falsehoods.

There is something else here – implicit rather than stated - that Prince Harry only likes positive news and does not want to be challenged on matters that are undoubtedly true.

As is already being made clear the royal couple have faced criticism for a number of quite factual things.

They range from preventing arrival pictures for Archie’s baptism to declining to name the child’s godparents and the £2.4 million taxpayers’ money to refurbish their Frogmore Cottage residence.

More tellingly, newspapers highlighted the apparent disparity between their calls to protect the environment combined with their use of private jets.

The Times, which splashed on the royal law suite also has an inside page lead reporting that the fleet of cars used during the tour of Africa were all shipped from the UK – though not at public expense - because it was said that there were not enough secure vehicles available locally. Local vehicles are almost always used by the royal family on foreign tours, the newspaper said.

None of this may matter hugely but the royal pair should not be surprised if it leads to a lack of positive coverage.

Prince Harry says for some papers it is all a game. Perhaps.

But there is another game in play and that is one where in return for their considerable privileges some degree of public access is expected. How much is a matter for debate but being a member of the royal family is not the easiest place to enjoy a private life.

Ironically, just before the news of the royal row broke the latest issue of the Mail on Sunday’s You magazine produced a Duchess of Cambridge special. It was devoted to: “The Year of Kate the Great. New Style, New Confidence, New Voice.”

Maybe the Duchess of Cambridge knows how to play “the game” a little better than the Duchess of Sussex.

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22 May 2020 

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