As details of the arrangement reached for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to step back from front-line Royal duties were revealed yesterday, it seemed our free and fearless press was on to a winner. “Prince Harry and Meghan will no longer use their HRH titles and will not receive public funds for royal duties, Buckingham Palace has announced … The couple will also no longer formally represent the Queen” told the BBC report.
There was more. “The Duke and Duchess of Sussex intend to repay £2.4m of taxpayer money for the refurbishment of Frogmore Cottage, which will remain their UK family home, the statement added”. Former Screws and Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan could not have been happier, gurgling “The Queen’s told Megan/Harry to sling their part-time royal hook. Well done, Your Majesty - right decision”. But someone was not thinking this through.
For starters, what has happened is more or less what Hal and Meg wanted. They are still the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, he’s still a Prince and 6th in line to the throne, and the two of them “would continue to maintain their private patronages and associations”. They can also, whisper it quietly, award their patronage to new causes.
And that is where the press, gleefully telling their readers of the “Hard Megxit” that has supposedly been imposed upon them by Brenda (and presumably approved by Brian), appears to have a blind spot. Think for a moment. What are both the Sussexes doing right now? They’re both taking legal action against our free and fearless press.
The Duchess is suing the Mail on Sunday over the publication of private correspondence, with the BBC reporting “Law firm Schillings, acting for the duchess, accused the paper of a campaign of false derogatory stories”. The Duke is going after the Murdoch mafiosi and publishers of the Mirror titles over historic claims of phone hacking - what the Guardian described as “an escalation of his all-out war with the British newspaper industry”.
And because the Sussexes will continue to be high profile individuals, the wider public is likely to pay more attention to potential lawbreaking within the press. One look at Byline Media and Byline Investigates gives a flavour of where that attention may focus. From “Piers Morgan Named in New Court Docs Over ‘Theft of Princess Diana Letters’”, to “Major James Hewitt Sues Piers Morgan’s Daily Mirror for Phone Hacking”, to “Twelve Sun Editors Suspected of Phone Hacking and Blagging, Court Told”, it’s bad for the press.
It’s even worse for the press’ cheerleaders, like Piers Morgan, nowadays regarded as more of a broadcast presence. If Hal and Megs decide to throw their support behind campaigns that highlight press misbehaviour, those stories will come centre stage, whether the press and their pals want them to or not.
Doesn’t sound quite so good for our free and fearless press now, does it? Hal and Megs keep their high public profile, advocate against press misbehaviour, thus raising the profile of that misbehaviour and the organisations that campaign for press accountability.
They got Leveson 2 canned. They can’t can the Sussexes. Bad move, press people.
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