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Prince Harry versus the press: Changing UK media now his ‘life’s work’

Prince Harry says his legal actions could shut down Sun, Mirror and Daily Mail.

By Dominic Ponsford

Prince Harry has revealed that reforming the British press is now his life’s work, a project he said his father – King Charles – has described as a “suicide mission”.

He said that following Jeremy Clarkson’s misogynistic attack on his wife in The Sun last month, it is a campaign for “accountability” which he is waging on behalf of the entire world.

He also said he believes that negative headlines against him are driven by intimidation on behalf of the UK’s three largest newspapers groups – the publishers of The Sun, Daily Mail and Daily Mirror – because he believes his ongoing legal actions could shut them down.

Speaking to ITV’s Tom Bradby ahead of the publication of his memoir “Spare”, Prince Harry revealed how he holds the UK press responsible for everything from the death of his mother in 1997 to his current rift with the rest of his family. He described the paparazzi following Diana’s car in Paris as one link in the chain of events that led to her death.

In 2008 a £6.5m inquest concluded that Diana died because of “grossly negligent driving” from her chauffeur, the fact she was not wearing a seatbelt, the fact the driver was drunk and “the speed and manner” of the following paparazzi vehicles.

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Harry reveals tabloid editor blackmail allegations

Harry reveals in his book that a tabloid editor came to him and said he had a picture of him taking cocaine and said they would release it unless he gave them a tell-all interview. He says he called their bluff and the picture never appeared.

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Asked whether he thought a story about him taking cocaine was a matter of public interest, he told Bradby: “I think what is a matter of public interest is the relationship between the institution and the tabloid media, that to me is more public interest than anything else.

“My life has been put through a blender, the lines have been blurred so much that public interest is more about the wellbeing of society yet what interests the public – which is what the media have now turned it into – to the point that they actually believe that.”

Talking about the possibility of reconciliation with his family, he said: “It breaks my heart that the British tabloid press have so successfully managed to create this divide and this conflict at the same time as a culture war in the UK. Peace can happen when there is truth. The only way my family can reconcile is by keeping the antagonist out of it.”

Explaining his own decision to breach the privacy of his own family, he said: “Silence only allows the abuser to abuse, I don’t know how staying silent is ever going to make things better.”

Prince Harry versus the press: Fleet Street’s ‘cut-rate criminals and sadists’

Sunday night’s interview quoted an extract from the book in which Harry rails against the UK media:

“How lost we are, I thought, how far we have strayed, how much damage has been done to our love, our bond, and why, all because a dreadful mob of dweebs and crones and cut-rate criminals and clinically diagnosable sadists along Fleet Street feel the need to get their jollies and plump their profits and work out their personal issues by tormenting one very large, very ancient, very dysfunctional family.”

When asked by Bradby whether he should accept the fact that the press has a job to do in holding the Royal Family to account and you can’t control it, he said: “Well my family have been trying to control it for years, and they still try to control it, because of their relationship with the British press. It’s something they don’t want to change because it benefits them.”

Asked why he does not just ignore negative coverage and wait for it to pass, he said: “I left the country for 12 months, it was relentless.”

Harry is currently engaged in legal battles against the UK’s three largest newspaper publishers: Mirror publisher Reach Plc, Sun publisher News UK, and Daily Mail and General Trust.

He sued The Sun and Mirror publishers for breach of privacy in 2019 over phone-hacking allegations dating back to the early 2000s. He joined a group legal action against the Daily Mail publisher in October last year, alleging criminal privacy breaches that include hiring private investigators to place listening devices in peoples’ homes.

Explaining why his fight with the UK media has become his life’s work he said he believes negative press coverage of his family in recent years has been driven by retaliation and intimidation.

He said: “One of the reasons I am moving the mission of changing the media landscape in the UK from being personal to my life’s work, a large part of that is down to the ongoing legal battles – specifically with phone-hacking – I put in my claims over three years ago and I am still waiting. So one might assume that a lot of this, from their perspective, is retaliation and trying to intimidate me to settle rather than take it to court and potentially they have to shut down. That is a large part of it.”

Talking about the particularly grave allegations made against the Daily Mail, Harry said: “If it was wrong they would presumably sue us.” However, since the allegations are contained in a legal writ they are privileged and therefore DMGT cannot sue Harry for libel.

He said: “Putting those claims in was an acceptance of the repercussions, what is so worrying is those repercussions are so obvious across the British press  – if they want to hold us and the rich and powerful to account and they want to police society, then who’s policing them?

“What’s happened to my wife and what’s happened to us happens to so many people on a daily basis because of the British press, because of the racism, because of the cronyism, because of the lies.

“My father said to me it was probably a suicide mission to try and change the press but, having spent ten years in the army, I learned a set of values and if I see wrongdoing I will be lured towards trying to resolve it. Especially when I have had the unique perspective that I have had, I have seen behind the curtain. If I can’t continue to serve my country while based in the UK for numerous reasons, one lack of security, I will continue to serve it from abroad.

“Changing the media, who I believe is at the epicentre of so many problems across the UK where people are suffering, then I am going to try and make a difference. It may be incredibly hard and I don’t know how long it is going to take but it is 100% worth it because I am happy with them talking crap about me very single day because I know it is not true but what I draw the line at is when you are inciting hatred on myself and on my wife and on my children.”

Asked whether given the “trauma” he has faced he “may not be taking the most logical view of this if you are permanently at war and seeing the media as one entity”, he said: “I made peace with it, I was willing to let a lot of it go back in 2020 when we left the country and if living in a new country, minding our own business during lockdown, not saying anything, not doing anything that would affect the British media at all – then every single day there attack then the assumption of it going away or moving on isn’t the case. I feel as though there is a responsibility to see this through because the benefits to a lot of people will be felt. I talk about Caroline Flack in the book as well.”

In August 2020, the inquest into the death of Love Island presenter Caroline Flack heard that she was “hounded” by the press in the weeks before she took her own life over an allegation which was due to air in court that she had violently abused her boyfriend. She was said to be worried about the police case and losing her job when she killed herself.

Last month The Sun apologised over a comment article from Jeremy Clarkson which referenced a scene from Game of Thrones and said: “At night, I’m unable to sleep as I lie there, grinding my teeth and dreaming of the day when she is made to parade naked through the streets of every town in Britain while the crowds chant, ‘Shame!’ and throw lumps of excrement at her.”

Harry said: “Not only is what he said horrific and hurtful and cruel towards my wife but it also encourages other people around the UK and around the world – men particularly – to go and think that it’s acceptable to treat women that way.

“It’s no longer me asking for accountability at this point – it is the world asking for accountability and the world is asking for some form of comment from the monarchy but the silence is deafening to put it mildly.

“We’ve gone form this being my personal whatever you want to call it to way bigger than us.”

Talking about what he sees as a royal campaign of disinformation against himself and his family, he said: “A royal source is not an unknown person, it is the palace briefing the press but covering their tracks by being unnamed and I think that is pretty shocking to people.

“Some of the most heinous horrible things have been said about me and my wife are completely condoned by the palace, because it is coming from the palace. Those journalists have been spoon-fed that narrative without ever coming to us, without ever seeing or questioning the other side. The way that the British press is showing itself at the moment is incredibly damaging to the UK.”

Email pged@pressgazette.co.uk to point out mistakes, provide story tips or send in a letter for publication on our "Letters Page" blog

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.
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