As British press hold back on Harry pics, worries of a media chill
Scandalous photos of royals were once British tabloids' bread and butter, but only one paper has published the latest Prince Harry photos. Such restraint may hint at a constrained press.
When pictures of Prince Harry, playing strip billiards in a Las Vegas hotel suite, appeared on websites and in newspapers around the world last week, it seemed like dream front page material for Britain's tabloid newspapers. After all, his family has long been fodder for Fleet Street: Prince William is believed to have had his phone hacked by journalists in 2005, and their late mother Princess Diana was famously plagued by tabloid paparazzi after she married Prince Charles.Skip to next paragraph
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But Britain’s scandal-loving press held back. Only one paper, The Sun, published the pictures, in what media critics hope – and journalists fear – may become an inhibited new norm for the British media.
The ostensible reason for their restraint was a letter written by Harbottle & Lewis, Prince Charles' lawyers, to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), warning editors that the pictures should not be published as they were taken on "an entirely private occasion" where Harry had a "reasonable expectation of privacy."
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But journalists have been quick to argue that newspapers would have published the pictures with alacrity had it not been for the ongoing Leveson inquiry into media standards, which is likely to recommend tougher regulation of the British press when it publishes its report this autumn.
Neil Wallis, former executive editor of the News of the World, told the BBC last week that the Leveson inquiry had “neutered” the press and that editors were “frightened of the consequences” of publishing such pictures.
A veteran Fleet Street reporter who has worked for Britain’s biggest tabloids agrees. “There’s a view that short-term limitation and caution are far, far better than not being able to do anything at all in the longer term,” says the journalist, who did not want to be named.
“What the public doesn’t know is the number of stories that have simply not been reported,” he adds. “At least every fortnight there’s been a scandal that we haven’t been able to write about. That classic tabloid terrain – they’ve just shut it down.”
Indeed, two days after The Sun broke ranks with Britain’s newspapers and published the photographs days after they first appeared on TMZ, a Los-Angeles-based celebrity gossip website, Rupert Murdoch, chief executive of The Sun's parent News Corporation, seemed to allude to this new climate of caution, arguing the paper had published the photographs to highlight the absence of “free press” in Britain.