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January 11, 2023updated 13 Jan 2023 3:49pm

Prince Harry: An apology

Media wrongs must be admitted but Prince Harry is blinded to the good press does.

By Dominic Ponsford

Sorry, Harry.

I disagree with a lot of what the Duke of Sussex has to say about my industry. But at the same time he has been subject to a degree of what Tom Stoppard called ‘casual cruelty’ by the media for which he deserves an apology.

Reading Spare it’s difficult not to feel sorry for a man who has felt tormented by the news media throughout his life and has been ill-equipped to deal with the attention his role attracts. It is clear from reading his book that the Royals as a whole have been woefully under-resourced when it comes to media relations given the size of their brand and the interest in it.

Prince Harry blames the media, with some good reason, for the death of his mother. Chasing paparazzi photographers were a contributory factor in the crash which killed her in Paris in 1997. Rather than rendering assistance, some took photos as she lay dying.

They were foreign photographers servicing media titles around the world, but Fleet Street had a role to play in buying their wares and not asking too many questions about how images were obtained. They helped create a market that made her the most hunted woman in the world.

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After Diana, Fleet Street vowed to mend its ways and stop using paparazzi images of the royal family.

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But a decade after her death, Harry reported being terrified after facing 20 paparazzi when leaving a nightclub. This surveillance has been an unwarranted intrusion throughout his life. There is no public interest in photographing someone, no matter how famous, doing their shopping. Other members of the Royal family have found an accommodation with the press – you don’t see images of William and Kate, for instance, when on private business – but for some reason, such a deal has always eluded Harry.

Two particular photographers were ever-present wherever he went, as detailed in his book, something which he and his security detail found particularly unnerving.

He reveals that a series of relationships ended because his girlfriends could not cope with the press intrusion, pursuit and interest not just in themselves – but their family and friends.

Harry and William had their phones hacked by the News of the World, and perhaps other newspapers too, in the early 2000s. It made them paranoid and doubt everyone in their inner circle as stories that only a few people could know about entered the public domain.

There is little doubt that the tabloids used the services of private detectives to out-source criminal information gathering at times during Harry’s life.

At one point in his book he reports then-girlfriend Chelsy Davy finding a tracking device under her car which appeared to explain why photographers were able to follow her wherever she went in South Africa.

Harry was made so miserable by press intrusion and coverage that, on being dispatched to war in 2007, he reported feeling that: “If I die in Afghanistan, I thought, at least I’ll never have to see another fake headline, read another shameful lie about myself.”

The surveillance and intrusion has extended into the modern era with Meghan and her family being hounded by the media after her relationship with Harry was made public.

But… the Royals are a global media brand. Much of the pursuit and surveillance happened in the US and Canada which have lighter privacy laws than the UK. Journalists and photographers bothering Meghan and her family were servicing a global market which a few tabloid editors in the UK don’t control.

Harry appears to conflate the actions of journalists with the millions who post on social media and carry smartphones. At one point in the book Meghan returns home in tears after being recognised in a UK supermarket and photographed by various shoppers and passers-by.

Meghan has been subjected to the same sort of indefensible pursuit and intrusion that many royals have faced: Kate, Camilla and others. It must be said they have handled it better. The fault for that may well lie with a Palace media machine that failed to give Harry and Meghan the support they needed.

And much of Harry’s anger might be better directed at the murky handy of royal spin doctors who at times have promoted the interests of other royals at Harry’s expense.

In a world where journalists write about the things readers are interested in it is inevitable that the Harry and Meghan romance would prompt hundreds of stories, not all of which Harry was going to like or agree with. Reading and dissecting every story would drive anyone to distraction.

Harry told ITV this week that the media “is at the epicentre of so many problems across the UK where people are suffering” and the British press is “incredibly damaging to the UK”.

Sadly his rage has clouded his eyes to the huge good the UK press does which vastly outweighs the wrongs done to him.

Given Harry says that reforming the media is now his life’s work you might think he might seek a more rounded view of it, but I have yet to read anything positive Harry has to say about the press.

Harry neglects to mention the fact that many of the media excesses he rails against were exposed as a result of The Guardian’s investigative journalism into the hacking scandal.

Press Gazette’s British Journalism Awards were founded 11 years ago to celebrate and promote journalism which serves the public interest.

In 2022 alone we recognised the Daily Mirror’s Pippa Crerar, who helped bring down a prime minister by – at times – breaching his privacy to expose corruption, dishonest and hypocrisy.

The Daily Mail was recognised for using covert means to expose a deadly smart motorways scheme that wasted billions in public money and led to needless deaths.

The Sun showed that there can be a public interest in reporting on the goings on at nightclubs when Noa Hoffman was named new journalist of the year for revealing that a drunk Tory chief whip had groped two men on a night out.

Hundreds of UK journalists have risked their lives this year to shine a light on Russia’s barbarous genocide in Ukraine. He does all of them a disservice with his blanket condemnation of the media. The sound of a clicking lens may be a harbinger of doom for Harry, but for millions of Ukrainians it is reminder that the world has not forgotten them.

I am sorry for what a tiny subset of my industry has done to Harry and others, although I think the UK tabloids are immeasurably better behaved today than they were in the era that most of his complaints stem from. But I am also incredibly proud of what the British press does every day to make the world a better, more enlightened place.

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