Prince Harry’s Defence Of Meghan Markle Is An Attack On Press Freedom

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By Harry Phibbs | 5:01 am, November 9, 2016

Kensington Palace has issued a hugely ill-judged attack on the press in the name of Prince Harry. It concerns coverage of his girlfriend Meghan Markle.

The upshot is that this amounts to an attack on press freedom. What makes it all the deplorable is the disingenuous way the attack is undertaken. Clearly the conduct of the Royal Family is a matter of public interest – newspapers should be at liberty to comment and report on them.

It also follows that, along with the rest of us, members of the Royal Family are entitled to legal protection of their rights. Therefore there are laws to prevent trespass and harassment. There is legal redress available against libel.

The statement from Prince Harry’s office blurs legal reporting with unsubstantiated allegations of illegal activity. It also links together press comment with the “outright sexism and racism of media trolls”. The objective of the statement is obvious. It is to have a “chilling effect” on any news and comment. Journalists and columnists
carrying out their legitimate work are smeared by association with criminals and oddballs spouting hatred on online forum under the cover of anonymity.

Prince Harry is an exceptionally privileged individual. His net worth is estimated at £28 million. The Queen provides him with his own Royal Household.

For him of all people to wallow in victimhood is as depressing as it is absurd. We are used to celebrities wailing at the media (when the coverage happens not to suit them). The tradition has been that the Royal Family has maintained its dignity by not commenting on media reports. That has paradoxically been far more effective in terms of public relations than employing a “rapid rebuttal unit” and getting
drawn into elaborate efforts of bullying some editors and offering favouritism to others.

By staying above the fray the Royal Family – for all its failings – has managed to maintain respect for the institution of monarchy which is such a highly prized national asset.

Let us remember that Prince Harry is not a child anymore. He is 32 years old. When he was 21 he agreed to become a “Counsellor of State” – that is to undertake duties as a member of the Royal Family.

I’m afraid he is not a very hard working member. An analysis of the Court Circular listed 49 engagements for him in Britain last year. That compares with 87 for his brother Prince William. The Queen undertook 306. The Duke of Edinburgh undertook 217 – not a bad productivity rate for a 94-year-old. The Prince of Wales undertook 380 and the Princess Royal 456.

Although Prince Harry did not choose to be born into the Royal Family, he does choose to undertake an official role. He could rescind his title of His Royal Highness and resign as a Counsellor of State and instead live as a private citizen. He has not made that choice.

Of course in choosing to be a public figure and enjoying all the wonderful opportunities that go with it there are costs for Prince Harry as well. The strain on his romantic life thanks to media scrutiny is obviously one. But shouldn’t he follow the example of his hard working older relatives and focus on public duty rather than self indulgent complaints?

One of the absurd suggestions is that there is something new about the tension between the media and the Royal Family which justified some change in arrangements of new restrictions. But decades ago Harry’s uncle, Prince Andrew, had to cope with plenty of embarrassing headlines over his relationship with Koo Stark – an American actress whose screen roles included a lead in an erotic film.

The British have much to be patriotic about. The monarchy is one source of great pride, the freedom of the press is another. For all the friction between the two, both are great sources of strength.

Prince Harry can make a positive contribution – but he should complain a bit less and serve a bit more.