Prince Harry pictured naked, playing strip billiards flanked by an equally naked girl
UK press reluctant to report story in print or on online digital media, says Robert Jobson
Jobson: Problem for newspapers is that new generation wants news now
Equally, Harry really must be more cautious about the company he keeps, Jobson says
Another day, another story about Prince Harry. The party-loving grandson of Queen Elizabeth II has been exposed again, this time naked, playing strip billiards flanked by an equally naked girl.
But what makes this story interesting – and not just gratuitous tittle-tattle – is the initial reluctance of the British press to even report the story in print or on their online digital media. It seems patently absurd to me that millions around the world can view the photographs online, yet no British newspaper would touch them.
The big question is why?
When grainy photographs were first published on the net by TMZ and seen by millions, the palace were forced to confirm it was him in the photos after speculation about the identity.
In doing so his PR team reminded media outlets in the UK that the pictures were taken in a hotel suite where the prince would have had a reasonable expectation of privacy.
This was a sharp move, given that every editor in this land would know that Clause 3 of the Press Complaints Commission Editor’s Code of Practice states: “It is unacceptable to photograph individuals in private places without their consent.” To publish in a UK tabloid then would be a clear breach.
But the newspapers have been left impotent by this move. They have again been scooped by the digital media. This is a dangerous precedent and in my view tantamount to returning to the good old, bad old days of royal reporting when in 1936 American and European newspapers freely reported on the affair of King Edward VIII and Mrs. Simpson while an establishment deal meant nothing was reported in the British newspapers.
Censorship of that royal story helped create the hysteria around the abdication crisis, polarizing opinion and may even have led to an atmosphere where the king felt he was forced to choose between love and duty.
More importantly, surely – like then – the British paying public has a right to know what their royal family is up to.
But post-Leveson – the inquiry established in the aftermath of the News International phone-hacking scandal first revealed after both Princes William and Harry’s phones were targeted – no editor seemed, initially at least, is prepared to risk the backlash.
Amid all the media navel-gazing there seems to be a genuine fear that the press feels it is no longer drinking in “The Last Chance Saloon” but time has already been called.
But this latest naked Harry scandal is a watershed moment – a moment when it is fair to ask: “Who is wagging the dog?” When I was a reporter on the tabloid Sun newspaper in 1991 old photos were circulated of Prince Andrew naked. Like Harry he was a playboy prince, dubbed “Randy Andy” by the tabloids.
The then-Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie bought the pictures and simply ran them across a double page inside spread (with a crown jewel sticker to spare the prince’s blushes) and waited for the reaction. The reaction was MPs huffed and puffed their outrage in parliament and sales of the newspaper went up.
I understand as we go to publication that Fleet Street (as the national UK national newspapers are still collectively referred to) has woken up to the story. Picture desks were today busy negotiating for the pictures and new snaps in circulation. Even if they do publish it is clear that the online media is calling the shots – forcing the papers to react when in the past it was always the newspapers that led.
In these times with newspaper sales figure nose-diving it is critical for them to decide are they leaders or followers. Restricted by their own rules it leaves them exposed, giving the impression that they are slow to react.
The problem newspapers face is that a new generation want news now, unrestricted and immediate. If they do not want to lose touch with that generation of readers altogether they have to at least compete with social and new media.
As for Prince Harry, I do have sympathy for him. He has been betrayed by somebody and caught with his guard down. He could argue that he could expect privacy in his own hotel room, but the truth is he should have known that Las Vegas is not a place where you can expect anything other than trouble – especially if you are one of the world’s most famous people.
He has been let down before – who can forget the Harry the Nazi photos, again taken on a phone by somebody in a private venue. He could blame his protection team, I really do not understand why the S014 officers did not ask the girls for their mobile phones on security grounds. But in truth the only one who has let any one down is Harry.
I know he is young, free and single – but he is a prince with responsibilities. He is bright enough and should have learned from his mistakes. The shame is that he had turned the corner. He represented his grandmother admirably at the Olympics Closing Ceremony and on a recent tour this year to Jamaica.
If the royal family is to be streamlined – with Harry as one of the central public players – he really has got to be more cautious about the company he keeps.