Posted on August 23, 2012 at 11:18 AM
Thursday, Aug 23 at 11:53 AM
LONDON—The prince has no clothes—but British newspapers aren’t running the pictures.
The country’s scandal-loving tabloids devoted many pages Thursday to the story of Prince Harry’s naked romp in a Las Vegas hotel suite. But all heeded a warning from royal officials that printing the images—already seen by millions on the Internet—would infringe the prince’s privacy.
So while Ireland’s Evening Herald ran the stark-naked prince on its front page, British newspapers made do with pictures of holiday Harry in bathing trunks and fedora hat.
The Sun tabloid came up with the most creative solution, getting a staff member named Harry and a 21-year-old female intern to recreate the naked pose under the headline “Harry grabs the crown jewels.”
Bob Satchwell, head of industry group the Society of Editors, said papers were merely complying with editors’ voluntary Code of Practice, which declares “it is unacceptable to photograph individuals in private places without their consent.”
But other media-watchers said a scandal that erupted a year ago over phone-hacking and other tabloid wrongdoing had tamed Britain’s once-rambunctious press.
Newspapers were exposed to a trial of public opinion as Judge Brian Leveson’s media ethics inquiry heard from celebrities, politicians and crime victims who said their lives had been turned upside down by press intrusion.
The scandal has killed one tabloid, the News of the World—shut down by owner Rupert Murdoch after revelations about its illegal eavesdropping—and tarnished the entire British media.
With the inquiry considering whether to impose stricter limits on press freedom, many feel the tabloids are staying away from kiss-and-tells and celebrity scoops that they once would have relished.
Neil Wallis, a former News of the World executive editor, said fallout from the hacking scandal had left newspapers “terrified of their own shadow.”
“In this post-Leveson era ... they daren’t do things that most of the country, if they saw it in the newspaper, would think ‘that’s a bit of a laugh,”’ Wallis told the BBC.
While newspapers including The Sun and the Daily Mirror proclaimed that the naked photos had been “banned,” that is not strictly true.
Prince Harry’s office confirmed it had contacted industry watchdog the Press Complaints Commission, which in turn advised newspapers not to publish the pictures. Any paper that ran them risks being chastised by the commission, which can demand a newspaper publish an apology, but has no power to issue fines.
They could also potentially be open to an invasion-of-privacy lawsuit from the prince.
Once, editors might have risked it, arguing that publishing the images was in the public interest because Harry is a public—and publicly funded—figure.
Satchwell acknowledged there was a risk Leveson’s inquiry could chill press freedom. But he said newspapers were simply behaving responsibly over Harry.
“Of course freedom of the press is vitally, vitally important,” he said. “But just because you can publish something doesn’t mean that you should.”