In the UK, Harry and Meghan declare war on tabloids

Prince Harry and his wife Meghan, Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Johannesburg, October 2, 2019. SIPHIWE SIBEKO / REUTERS

Nothing is going right between the Sussex and the tabloids. Meghan and her husband Harry, sixth in the line of succession to the crown, have caused a sensation of the last days in the United Kingdom, filing complaint one after another against the biggest draws of the British popular press: the Mail on Sunday, the Sun and the Daily Mirror.

On October 1, the couple reported on its website that Meghan, the 38 year old Duchess of Sussex, was filing a lawsuit against Mail on Sunday about the publication in February of excerpts from a letter she sent to her father, Thomas Markle, asking him to be more discreet in the media. The complaint concerns a copyright infringement, the letter belonging to Meghan.

On 4 October, the media revealed that the 35-year-old Duke of Sussex had also appealed to the courts over interceptions of telephone messages dating back to the early 2000s. The complaint concerns News Group Newspapers (NGN), the owner of the Sun and the formerNews of the World, as well as Reach PLC, owner of Mirror.

"I lost my mother, and I see my wife victim of the same forces"

This is certainly not the first time members of the British royal family have sued the media. Among the memorable precedents, that of Prince Consort Albert, who in 1849 sued a publisher for counterfeit engravings made by his wife, Queen Victoria. Even the very discreet Queen Elizabeth had attacked the Sun for having leaked part of her Christmas allowance in 1993. The same year, Princess Diana also reproached Sunday Mirror to have published photos of her sweating during her gym session.

The great novelty, in the case of the Sussex, is especially about their way of communicating, frank and unusually personal. In the statement accompanying Meghan's complaint, Harry denounces the press campaign "ruthless » his wife, he accuses the newspapers of " bullying ", a conduct that can "Destroy lives".

"I do not want history to repeat itself (…). I lost my mother, and now I see my wife in turn victim of the same forces, " he adds, referring to his mother, Princess Diana, who died in a car accident under the Alma bridge, pursued by paparazzi. At the time of the tragedy, Harry was 12 years old. "He loved Diana (…) and told me that he always feels like she's been guiding him from the past and that he's still trying to make her happy," entrusts Angela Levin, famous chronicler of the "Royals", in the Daily Telegraph.

Public money, privacy and paper sale

If their wedding, in May 2018, had delighted the media, the honeymoon between the Sussex and the press did not last long. Since then, Meghan has been regularly described as capricious and spendthrift. Racist comments have multiplied on social networks. The summer of 2019 was especially complicated for the couple, with the revelation of the expensive redevelopment of their Frogmore home and repeated private jet flights, in apparent contradiction to their environmental commitments.

But these complaints came like a thunderclap in a blue sky, while Meghan and Harry, with their baby Archie, completed a tour of South Africa, resulting only in bright photos and glowing reviews. Why sabotage ten days of successful "press relations"?

Most of the experts and journalists are in any case seriously judging their actions in court. Some insist on Harry's imprudence: "I'm not sure everyone at the Palace shares his way of doing things," said Jonny Dymond, the BBC correspondent at Buckingham Palace. Others find that the couple confuses communication and journalism.

"The members of the royal family must learn to distinguish between criticism and harassment," notes Patrick Jephson, former private secretary of Diana in the Observer. Harry and Meghan want "Show the newspapers that they are not a shop where you can use for free", according to Brian Cathcart, professor of journalism at Kingston University in London, one of the few to support the couple.

The case points in any case a raw light on an unspoken relationship between the "Royals" and the tabloids. Without these, the former would have virtually no public existence, their role being little more than symbolic in the United Kingdom. In exchange for the chronic, not always exciting of their deeds and actions, the press expects monarchs to the lifestyle paid by the taxpayer the right to use their privacy to sell paper.


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