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Prince Harry and the Freedom of the Press

Last week saw images of a nude Prince Harry splashed across the front page of The Sun, partnered with the title “Heir it is”. The pictures in questions were those that had already been floating around cyberspace, taken by some of the guests invited to Harry’s private party during his trip to Las Vegas.

The use of the images by The Sun turned the story into one focussing on our Prince’s unruly behaviour and playboy lifestyle, funded by the taxpayer, to one debating his right to privacy. He had not been flaunting himself or acting obscenely in public, but instead fell victim to the money-making schemes of those whom he had invited to join him.

Far from categorically condemning the Prince, the reaction of the general public was to defend both his behaviour and right to privacy. This reaction goes to show how far Harry has come from his controversial days of dressing in Nazi costumes. After touring the Caribbean, standing in for the Queen at the Olympics and being involved in a lot of charity work, the Prince seems to have got the majority of the public onside and understanding of his need to blow off some steam.

The Sun was the only British newspapers to print the photos, citing freedom of the press. They also claimed that, “There is a clear public interest in publishing the Harry pictures, in order for the debate around them to be fully informed”. However it appears that they misjudged the public. As of the 28th August, the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) received 3,600 complaints from people who felt that The Sun had invaded the Prince’s privacy. A YouGov poll has supported this by showing that the majority believed Harry’s behaviour was acceptable and that The Sun was wrong to publish the photos. The Sun justified their decision, claiming that Prince Harry’s acts were “hardly the acts of a man jealously guarding his privacy.”

Privacy of the individual versus freedom of the press is a subject that has been prominent in the press recently. After the phone-hacking scandal broke, Lord Justice Leveson was appointed to head up an inquiry into press ethics and to give his recommendations on effective regulation that allows both a free press and ethical practice.

It seems that the past scandal has had an effect on the media. Steve Hewlett, Media Commentaror, remarked that, “A year ago I think these would have been published without question and very widely commented on.”

Other papers, such as the Telegraph and the Daily Mirror stated that they were not going to publish the images on the grounds of privacy concerns and breaching the PCC’s Editors’ Code of Practice.

Former News of the World Deputy Editor, Paul Connew, commented on the problems faced by Leveson regarding cases like these, “A running theme during the Leveson Inquiry, and one of the great dilemmas I think for Lord Justice Leveson as he sits down and writes his report, is the future and the economic viability of newspapers, both broadsheets and popular, in the UK in the age of the web. Can you have a scenario where what’s available on the web and also being carried by legitimate major organisations like CNN and NBC around the world, and yet it can’t be printed in the UK itself? I think that’s simply irrational and also illogical, and effectively doesn’t fit with the world as it is in the age of the internet and social media.”

Brian Cathcart, director of campaign group Hacked Off, claimed that the controversy has shown that newspapers are incapable of self-regulation. “The Sun’s argument that this is about freedom of the press is nonsense,” he said, “This is about The Sun’s right to trample over the industry’s own feeble rules when it likes, and also to invade people’s privacy whenever it chooses.”

Cathcart is far from the only person to question The Sun’s intentions. Secretary general of the British Monarchist Society, Thomas Mills, pointed out that, “The photos were already online and available to the masses, and those who wanted to see them already have for free, so the decision to run these private photos only works in the interest of The Sun itself, and for the freedom of the press which is the premise The Sun used as a defence to publish the photos.” While former Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, said The Sun had shown “absolute utter contempt” for the law and the Leveson Inquiry.

Despite the outcry, St James’ Palace has remained quiet on the matter, simply stating that, “We have made our views on Prince Harry’s privacy known. Newspapers regulate themselves, so the publication of the photographs is ultimately a decision for editors to make.”

All in all, it seems that opinion is well and truly split. Some, like PR Consultant, Max Clifford, agreed with various arguments from both camps, saying that while he did see where the public interest lay, it did not seem enough to justify breaching the Prince’s privacy. A free press is meant to benefit society, by expressing freedom of speech and holding those with power to account. The press needs to draw a line between what’s in the public interest and what the public simply wants to see.

Ellis Schindler

For more on Impact’s coverage of the Prince Harry scandal see:
The Prince and Our Right to Privacy

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