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September 13, 2022updated 07 Oct 2022 7:15am

King Charles III and the media: Legal tangles, privacy breaches and guest editorships

By Bron Maher

King Charles III has had a complicated relationship with the press spanning multiple injunctions, public and private criticism, and several stints as a guest editor.

It also takes in giving a speech at journalists’ church St Bride’s Church in Fleet Street and some severe invasions of his own privacy.

During the decline of Charles’s marriage to Princess Diana, both were reported to have used the media to brief against one another.

But more recently, Charles’s approach to the media has reportedly tightened, with a 2015 report in The Independent claiming the new King would not speak to broadcasters unless they signed a 15-page contract giving residence Clarence House rights to unilaterally pull the plug.

Below, Press Gazette rounds up what we know about Charles III’s relationship with the media.

[Read more: The Queen maintained good media relations but fought to protect privacy]

King Charles and the media in the courts

Like his mother, the late Queen Elizabeth, Charles has had a handful of legal run-ins with the media – mainly around upholding his privacy and contractual duty of confidentiality owed by employees.

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In 1995 he won two separate injunctions stopping household employees from publishing private information. One injunction prevented housekeeper Wendy Berry from publishing a book anywhere in the world about her years in Charles’ official London residence Clarence House. Berry subsequently left the UK and published the book in the US.

The other injunction barred Charles’s valet Ken Stronach from making further revelations about the then Prince of Wales’s personal life after Stronach sold pictures he had taken of the prince’s bedroom to the News of the World.

Charles’s lawyers returned to court later in 1995 to pursue Richard Stott, who as editor of the now defunct Today newspaper had printed extracts from Berry’s book. Stott narrowly escaped prison for contempt of court and received a £75,000 fine, according to an October 2000 account in The Guardian.

In 2005, Charles sued the Mail on Sunday when it published a dispatch he had written to a group of acquaintances while en route home from the handover of Hong Kong to China. He had described Chinese politicians in his memo as “appalling old waxworks” and the handover as an “awful Soviet-style display”.

The MoS lost both the case and an appeal, with the High Court ruling the paper had breached Charles’s copyright and privacy.

And in a ten-year saga commencing in 2005 – albeit one in which Charles was not himself a participant – The Guardian pushed for publication of the “black spider memos”: letters from Charles to government ministers on a range of topics and named for the Prince’s spindly handwriting. The Guardian ultimately won the right to see and publish those memos in 2015 in the Supreme Court, against the protests of the attorney general (and other newspapers).

Media connections and advisers

In July of this year, Charles and Camilla appointed Daily Mail deputy editor Tobyn Andreae as their press secretary. According to The Times: “The duchess is understood to have taken the lead in Andreae’s appointment, closely consulting her friend Geordie Greig, the former editor of the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday, who is believed to have personally recommended him for the position.”

King Charles’s journalism career

At the start of September, Charles garnered headlines when he guest-edited The Voice, the Gleaner Company-owned London tabloid that covers black Britain, for its 40th anniversary

His appearance on the masthead was not without controversy, however, with some readers criticising the paper’s decision to involve a representative of an institution they associated with colonialism and exploitation.

Not all Charles’s editorial efforts have received pushback, though: he also guest-edited Country Life magazine in 2013, 2018 and again in 2020. His wife Camilla herself guest-edited the Future-owned magazine earlier this year and an ITV documentary is being made about the experience.

What newspaper does King Charles read?

Press Gazette has pored over stock imagery and Google searches to try and determine the King’s preferred national newspaper, to little avail: the only scrap available is a 2003 media round-up in The Guardian, reporting that royal butler Paul Burrell revealed Charles reads The Times.

But the King has offered up more information on his taste in local papers. Writing in 2018 to Local Media Works, part of the News Media Association, Charles described the Aberdeen Press and Journal, the John O’Groats Journal, and the Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard as papers he “enjoyed keeping in touch with”.

King Charles’s comments on the media

King Charles’s feelings about the media have occasionally slipped into public view.

Earlier this year, a 2002 letter written by Charles to a maid of Princess Alexandra went up for auction. The message described the then prince’s contemporaneous feelings about the press: “Unfortunately, we [royals] are now to be treated as mere pawns in a terrifying and ongoing media circulation war where the actual facts are totally disregarded and vast sums of money are offered as bribes to former and current members of staff to exercise their pathetic jealousies and vendettas in public. One member of staff has been offered a total of £5m by the newspapers in recent weeks.”

During a 2005 photo call in Switzerland, Nicholas Witchell (then a BBC reporter) called across to Charles, William and Harry asking how they felt about the Prince of Wales’s upcoming wedding to Camilla Parker-Bowles.

Charles answered: “Well, it’s a nice thought. I am very glad you have heard of it anyway,” before saying under his breath to his sons: “These bloody people. I can’t bear that man. I mean, he’s so awful, he really is.”

In 1993, Charles suffered a severe breach of privacy when a secretly recorded intimate phone conversation between himself and Camilla from 1989 was published by the tabloid press. The call was recorded by an eavesdropper (not a journalist) in 1989, at a time when non-digitalised mobile phone calls could be intercepted by radio hams, and the transcript published in 1993 (a year after his separation from Diana)/

And in 1994, Germany’s Bild tabloid published a photograph of Charles in the nude. The picture was snapped by a paparazzo through a window and published without Charles’s consent.

He did not issue a response himself but Buckingham Palace said: “We think it is completely unjustifiable for anybody to suffer this sort of intrusion.”

Earlier this year, Charles and Camilla visited the BBC newsroom in London to speak to journalists who have reported on Afghanistan, Ukraine and Russia, such as BBC Afghan presenter Sana Safi (pictured with the Royals).

According to the BBC, Charles shared his admiration for journalists who had reported in “the most difficult of circumstances” and told Clive Myrie and Lyse Doucet he had watched their broadcasts from Ukraine in which they were “shivering on the roofs”.

And in 2003, he was invited by the London Press Club to speak at St Bride’s Church on Fleet Street on the 300th anniversary of the founding of the Daily Courant newspaper.

The now King thanked the press for giving his sons “as much privacy as is possible” and said that despite mistakes, “most of the time you are seeking to keep the public informed about developments in society, to scrutinise those who hold or seek positions of influence, to uncover wrongdoing at a national level, in business or in local communities, to prick the pomposity of the overbearing, and – a point sometimes forgotten – to entertain us”.

His primary criticism of the press did not concern privacy or accuracy, but instead how downbeat coverage was on people doing their best to do their jobs.

“While the public services may seem to be leviathans on the landscape of our state, impregnable to attack, their roots are human ones, and their reputations are susceptible to long-term decay and the corrosive drip of constant criticism,” he told the audience, exhorting them to “make a resolution from now on to emphasise… those robust qualities”, which he said exemplified the good in British public life.

Picture: Hannah McKay/Pool via Reuters

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