What the press coverage of Prince Harry tells us

Thursday 23 August 2012, 15:21

Torin Douglas Torin Douglas is the BBC's media correspondent. Twitter: @BBCTorinD

Las Vegas Viva Las Vegas The UK press has declined to print pictures of Prince Harry naked in a Las Vegas hotel room, after St James' Palace contacted the Press Complaints Commission. What does this say about British media in the midst of the Leveson Inquiry?

British papers may not have printed the pictures of Prince Harry but they have reported the furore in full detail - and told readers where they can find the photos which first surfaced on the TMZ entertainment website in the US.

A picture editor at the Sun even recreated one of the photographs - posing naked with a fashion intern to get around the unofficial ban.

This story and photograph were later removed from the newspaper's website but, thanks to Twitter and Google, vestiges of it remain in cyberspace, including the UK pages of the US-based Huffington Post website.

In the UK, only the blogger Guido Fawkes - who is legally based in Ireland, where at least one newspaper has printed the snapshots - directly challenged the authorities by reproducing the photos.

He says, “The truth is, the old media have been scared into submission by the Leveson Inquiry."

That view is widely shared in the media, as former tabloid editors Neil Wallis and Kelvin MacKenzie made clear on Newsnight, though Clarence House said it had simply reminded newspapers of Clause 3 of their own code relating to reasonable expectations of privacy.

In the past, some papers would have happily countered this with claims that the story was in the public interest, pointing out the risk posed to the prince's security. But for the moment newspapers are playing safe, waiting for Leveson.

That has not stopped them from discussing the full implications of Prince Harry's behaviour - including the likely response from his father, other members of the royal family, his army superiors, the police and the security forces, not to mention its impact on the prince's reputation in the eyes of the public.

The fact that the papers haven't actually printed the photos has not stifled public discourse on the issues.

But it's a salutory reminder of the difficulty for Lord Justice Leveson in devising a tighter form of press regulation for the UK in a world where social media and the internet respect no boundaries - and where every day newspapers run different stories and pictures online from those they print in their pages.

This week, the campaigning group Hacked Off, backed by Hugh Grant among others, has advertised for a head of government and parliamentary relations, a head of media relations, a head of outreach and a website/social media manager.

Whatever the Leveson Report says when it is published this autumn, it is certain to spark a new round of arguments about what sort of a press - and regulation - the UK wants.

This article first appeared on the BBC News website.

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