Harry risks monarchy with anti-press crusade

St George: Harry skewers the tabloid dragon in defence of distressed damsel Meghan. © Tutu

Is this a bridge too far? The battle lines have been drawn between #TeamMeghan and Britain’s media. Commentators fear Prince Harry is attacking the very thing that keeps the monarchy alive.

It emerged this weekend that Prince Harry is joining scores of other people in a group claim that alleges editors and executives at Mirror Group Newspapers, publisher of The Daily Mirror, and News Group Newspapers (NGN), publisher of The Sun and the defunct News of the World, mounted an industrial-scale cover-up over more than 20 years.

The Duke’s claim comes shortly after his wife, Meghan, launched a legal case against The Mail on Sunday. She says the paper breached her privacy and copyright by publishing a private letter to her father. The paper has said it will vigorously defend the case.

Taken together, these lawsuits represent the most serious assault on the British press ever launched by a member of the royal family. They rank among the most serious anti-media accusations ever by anyone at the top level of public life.

Prince Harry’s claim, in particular, is far more sweeping than just a charge of phone-hacking by particular journalists. The allegations involve perverting the course of justice, perjury and fraud against senior executives and senior editors.

If upheld, they will rip the heart out of the two biggest tabloid newspapers in Britain with a combined global readership of 60 million.

This is a landmark legal challenge, says Jane Martinson in The Guardian because it seeks to draw a line in the sand between the modern monarchy and the media.

“It will probably be nasty, brutish and, with the phone hacking case not coming to trial for a year at least, not particularly short. Wherever your sympathies lie, there are also unlikely to be any winners.”

“I went through something similar with Harry’s mother when we sued the Mirror for sneakily acquired pictures of her working out in a gym,” writes Diana’s former private secretary, Patrick Jephson.

“In the heat of battle and gripped by self-righteous indignation, the royal hand reaches resolutely for the mighty sword of truth and… waits. And waits.”

Is this a bridge too far?

Knight fantastic

One view is that Harry is right and the public will back him to the hilt. He is authentic, not motivated by money, and seeking retribution for what he sees as a lifetime of provocation, harassment and intrusion. He’s fighting this battle for his mum, who never lived to fight it herself. And the tabloids may be read but they are loathed. They bring out the worst of hypocrisy and division in society. We all want to get rid of them.

But most commentators passionately disagree. The phone-hacking scandal is long over and the modern tabloids give the royals a free ride with acres of beautiful photos and sycophantic coverage. This is the only way the royal family keeps its high ranking in the polls. Take that away and it won’t be long before it falls into irrelevance and is abolished. Harry must hate monarchy to sabotage his own popularity and bite the hand that feeds it so lavishly.

You Decide

  1. Will people still be backing Harry in a year’s time?
  2. Harry says a free press is the cornerstone of democracy. Is he a hypocrite to attack it?

Activities

  1. Form into pairs. Read Jane Martinson’s article in the Expert Links. Prepare a short summary of what she is saying. Be ready to deliver it to the class.
  2. Imagine you were speaking in a debate arguing that Britain should become a republic. Take 15 minutes to prepare your arguments.

Some People Say...

“It is safer for a prince to judge of men by what they do to one another than what they do to him.”

Lord Halifax (1881-1959), British former Foreign Secretary

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Prince Harry’s legal submission, this weekend, carries around five pages of allegations relating to hacking and “blagging” (obtaining personal information illegally), and around 20 pages outlining allegations of concealment and destruction of evidence. The claims cover 1994 to 2011. It will take up to a year to come to court.
What do we not know?
Key areas of speculation include: does the Queen approve, or is this Harry “going rogue”? How can Harry and Meghan support the vast cost of an extended legal action without using public funds? And will public sympathy for the Prince evaporate if the tabloids stop all coverage of his activities?

Word Watch

Group claim
When an incident occurs and it affects a large number of people at the same time, this can result in group litigation. This type of case allows a group of people to bring their claims to court as a single entity and is known as a ‘Group’ or ‘Class’ action.
Defunct
No longer existing.
Phone-hacking
Gaining unauthorised access to data stored in another person’s phone, especially in order to access their voicemail.
Perjury
The offence of wilfully telling an untruth or making a misrepresentation under oath.
Private secretary
In the royal family, as in politics, the private secretary runs a person’s team of officials and is their main support in their public role.
Sycophantic
Flattering people who are more powerful to gain some advantage.

Subjects

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