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  1. Media Law
December 1, 2023

Piers Morgan’s likely libel defence over naming of royals in racism row

Rival titles named the Royal pair at centre of racism claims a day later.

By Dominic Ponsford

TalkTV and presenter Piers Morgan have risked a possible defamation action from the royal family after reporting unproven claims that two named members of the clan made racist comments relating to Harry and Meghan‘s son Archie.

The two royals were first named by Piers Morgan on his show “Uncensored” on Wednesday 29 November and the channel led its news bulletins with the story on Thursday.

Other titles – including Mail Online and TalkTV sister title The Sun – have declined to name the royals concerned. However, TalkTV has broadcast the names repeatedly and published them on its website.

It follows the publication of royal journalist Omid Scobie’s book Endgame and the discovery that the Dutch-language edition of the book named the two senior royals alleged to have made the offending comments. Scobie has described it as a “translation error” and said he never wrote a version of the book containing the names. The copies have now been pulped.

Update 1 December: On Friday, the two royals named in the Scobie book were more widely named in other media, including on the front page of the Mirror.

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Will the royals sue Piers Morgan and TalkTV?

TalkTV could rely on the “bane and antidote” defence should the royal family members concerned decide to sue over the defamatory suggestion that they are racist.

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Media law expert David Banks told Press Gazette: “I think the likelihood of members of the royal family suing for libel in these circumstances is vanishingly small.

“Frustrating as it must be to endure these accusations, I think they would not go down the road of suing for libel with the media circus that would inevitably follow as it would almost certainly involve them going into the witness box.

“Secondly, Piers, in his preamble, makes it very clear that he does not believe these accusations, so could be looking at the old principle of bane (poison) and antidote – the poison of the libel is immediately cured by the antidote of his words suggesting the accusations are untrue and he doesn’t believe them.

“For these reasons I think Piers is safe from any potential action for libel, as are Omid Scobie and his publishers.”

According to multiple news outlets, including the Mirror and The Telegraph, a royal source has said in relation to potential legal action: “We are considering all options.”

Meghan, who is mixed race, first made allegations of royal racism in an interview with Oprah Winfrey in March 2021. She said before their first child Archie was born there had been “concerns and conversations” between Harry and the family “about how dark his skin might be when he’s born”.

In the same interview Harry said there had been a conversation about “what will the kids look like” but did not reveal who made the comment.

Scobie told This Morning on Thursday of the errant publication: “I’m as frustrated as everyone else, I make it very clear in this book that I, in every way possible, want to adhere to the laws surrounding this subject.”

Emphasising that he did not believe the claims were true, Morgan said on TalkTV: “Harry and Meghan never provided a shred of evidence for their racism claims…

“Now Harry and Meghan’s client journalist Omid Scobie is back with a spiteful, lie-filled new book that’s poured fuel on the flames.”

Emphasising the public interest in reporting, he said: “British people who pay for the royal family are entitled to know who appears in this Dutch translation.”

He also said: “The consequences of the error is that millions of people online around the world are again being implicated in what I think is a completely baseless claim of inferred racism.”

Jeremy Kyle and other TalkTV presenters emphasised that the allegations were untrue as they led the channel’s coverage with the story.

Kyle, defending the decision to name the royals, said: “The British people need to get the truth, there is absolutely no evidence in any way at this point that either… [he names the two royals] made an offensive racist remark.”

The bane and antidote defence was referenced in Press Gazette in 2017 when news publishers widely reported claims made in a “dirty dossier” which made highly defamatory claims about the activities of then US president Donald Trump.

Media lawyer Mark Stephens told Press Gazette at the time: “Both here and in America there is something called neutral reportage. If somebody is saying something and it is in the public interest you can report the fact that this happening provided that you don’t adopt the allegations yourself.

“In America, when you have a public figure you can say pretty much anything provided you don’t have evidence that it is untrue. Somebody who is president of the United States has the smallest zone of privacy around their reputation.”

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Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
  • Business owner/co-owner
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