As we await Netflix’s Harry & Meghan Volume 2, the Guardian had a fascinating analysis piece about Prince Harry’s multi-front war. A lot of space is devoted to Harry’s statements against his family, but he’s equally – if not moreso – engaged in a war against the British tabloid media and the entire royal-rota system. I would argue that both wars are existential threats for the monarchy and the media. Harry could burn down the monarchy. Harry could also fundamentally change the way the British media does business. The BM was supposed to change following the Leveson Inquiry, but it didn’t. The tabloids made some superficial changes and pinkie-swore to do better. Currently, Harry is suing the Mail over multiple issues in multiple lawsuits. He’s also suing the Sun, a big part of Rupert Mudoch’s media empire in the UK. Some interesting highlights from this Guardian piece:
Harry’s media fight: Not mentioned in the initial episodes of the Netflix series is how some of the most powerful media bosses in the UK could be dragged into a series of ongoing legal proceedings involving Prince Harry. The king’s son is fighting four different cases against many of the same newspapers that are leading the criticism of his documentary. If the claims make it to court then the spotlight will probably focus on senior staff such as the Daily Mail’s Paul Dacre, and Rebekah Brooks, the boss of Rupert Murdoch’s UK media company.
Harry’s gamble: Nathan Sparkes, who runs the press regulation campaign group Hacked Off, said the royal couple appeared determined to permanently change public attitudes towards the British tabloid industry, although this is a high-risk strategy. “For decades members of the royal family, and other well-known people, have been advised to avoid confrontation with the press,” Sparkes said. “This is a policy which has only entrenched the sense of power and impunity held at some newspapers. Harry and Meghan’s willingness to stand up to those publishers, and to seek to have their rights upheld in a court of law, shows that they are prepared to take a dramatically different approach.”
Reputational damage: The media analyst Alice Enders said the prince was using the legal tools at his disposal as “part of an enduring battle against the Daily Mail … it’s clear those people are enemy number one in that household and have been since the very beginning. Harry and Meghan have done more reputational damage [to British newspapers] in this Netflix global event than in any single lawsuit. They set off a missile from their base in LA that’s accomplished far more than any of these cases ever will.”
Harry’s most recent lawsuit against the Mail: We still don’t know exactly what Harry is accusing the Mail’s parent company of doing. His legal claim was filed at the start of October and would normally have been made available for public scrutiny by now. But despite campaigning for transparency in the court system, the Mail has successfully delayed the publication of the detailed allegations until well after the documentary’s release…Any future court case could require Dacre – still tipped for a peerage in Boris Johnson’s resignation honours – to give testimony and face cross-examination. This could be damaging for Dacre and the newspaper’s brand. One risk would be a repeat of the News of the World’s downfall, where concerned advertisers stop paying to promote their products in the outlet.
Harry is putting his money where his mouth is: None of this is cheap. Recent legal filings reveal how Harry is running up millions of pounds in legal fees that he could be forced to pay if his claims are unsuccessful. A similar phone-hacking case against Mirror Group Newspapers – part of the Reach media empire, which also includes the Daily Express and the Daily Star, remains ongoing. The prince has had a partial setback in his fourth case, a libel claim against the Mail on Sunday about a story regarding his security arrangements, with both sides given until January to try to find a settlement.
This media analysis ends with the point that Harry and Meghan’s lawsuits could make it easier for “the little people” to fight the British tabloids. Currently, outlets like the Mail and the Sun regularly attack and defame regular people, victims of crimes, low-tier celebrities and even A-listers. What happens if and when Harry gets some high-profile wins? What happens when Viscount Rothermere has to publicly apologize or eat sh-t for all of the Mail’s dirty tricks? More lawsuits, more accountability, more manufactured outrage.
Something more intangible, something which has always infuriated me, as a reader of many of British outlets, is how comfortable so many British journalists are with being stenographers to power. They see their roles as merely parroting the talking points from Buckingham Palace or Kensington Palace, which is one of the major issues for the Sussexes. That’s why Harry and Meghan are making the connection over and over – this is about the invisible contract, this about the collusion between press and palace.
Photos courtesy of Backgrid.