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01 - 07 Sept, 2012
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THE ORCHARD ON FIRE
 
LONDON EYE
Harry's Pics Spark Controversy Over Freedom Of The Press
by SHAHED SADULLAH
Prince Harry
Britain is in the throes of a controversy over the freedom of the press sparked by the Royal family who, given the situations they get themselves into, were always the most likely candidates to spark off such a controversy.
The story started in Las Vegas where Prince Harry, an Army helicopter pilot, who is Prince Charles' younger son and therefore third in line to the throne, had gone on a holiday. He was staying at the Wynn Hotel in Vegas in a suite supposed to cost £5000 per night which, quite apart from any of the other shenanigans that came to light, is not the sort of thing that is designed to garner public support for the Royals. But there was much more to come.
It transpired that young Harry, whose middle name is not discretion by any stretch of the imagination, got friendly with some people in the hotel inviting them to his suite for a party. The suite had a billiards table which the Americans, in their almost insane desire to have a different word for everything English, call a pool table. It is just the sort of thing that makes Brits wonder if they granted independence to these hooligans across the pond rather before they deserved it!
Be that as it may, someone got the idea to play strip pool – or, what in more civilized terminology would be described as strip billiards. Now, for the uninitiated, this is not a recognized sport with national and international level competitions in which teams are graded by a central body which administers the sport. Quite simply, you have a shot at trying to pot a ball and every time you miss, you have to take off an item of clothing. Since the third in line to the throne was dressed only in swimming trunks when the game started, it took only one attempt from him to pocket the ball before he was dressed in no more than what he was born with. Other young ladies and gentlemen present soon followed suit and in the frolicking that followed someone took pictures of the naked prince, some in very close proximity of a young lady whom he obviously fancied and who too, equally obviously, was no good at billiards. The pictures soon found their way to the internet and became a hot topic of public discussion.
This is where the plot started to thicken. Perhaps in a state of something not too far from panic, lawyers acting on behalf of the Royal family warned British newspapers through the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) not to publish the pictures. It was claimed that any publication of these pictures would breach the Prince's privacy (for which he seems to have had scant regard in a hotel in a foreign country), that they would be against the code of the PCC and finally, that in any case these pictures were not a matter of public interest. They could not possibly have been more wrong on the last count because news bulletins have talked of little else since these pictures came into the public domain some three days before British papers decided to defy the Royal warning and go ahead and publish the pictures. The Irish Herald, copies of which were sold in Northern Ireland, a part of the United Kingdom, was the first to carry them and the following day The Sun, which claims a readership of eight million, had them on its front page.
Prince CharlesIt should be understood what the controversy is about here. The Sun has made it very clear that in publishing the pictures it is not trying to make a moral judgment on the Prince's antics, although it is certain that the pictures will cause the Royal family deep embarrassment. In fact, his nude frolics are seen by quite a few as a bit of sowing of wild oats by a generally popular soldier prince, rather similar to the image Henry, the eighth of that name, had before he became king and made a habit of knocking off his wives' heads. The debate here is about how far is it valid to try and stop the press from printing something that is already widely accessible on the web and which the 77 per cent of British households who have access to the net can view at the click of a mouse. Indeed, details of the website that first carried the pictures were widely mentioned in print and online publications as well as the electronic media. So how did it make sense to try and stop British newspapers from publishing the same images?
The Sun said in its justification for publishing the pictures that they had generated 'a legitimate public debate about the behaviour of the man who is third in line to the throne and increasingly taking on official duties, as he did most recently at the Olympics' closing ceremony. It will be recalled that at the closing ceremony, Prince Harry had been deputed to represent the Queen and it may be said with some confidence that had he indulged in his Vegas frolics before the ceremony, he would almost certainly have been watching it on television. The Sun also dismissed the contention of the Royal family that the pictures were not a matter of public interest, claiming that the 'photos have potential implications for the Prince's image representing Britain around the world'. The argument here seems to be that although the very lax attitudes to sexual morality in Britain may not make much of these images from the moral point of view, other parts of the world with more strict sexual codes of behaviour may not find the pictures quite so amusing. There are also questions over the security issue revolving around the relative ease with which unknown people were invited into the Prince's private rooms carrying mobile phone cameras, prior to which he was apparently frolicking by the pool side (and this would be the swimming pool) with what seems to be precious little concern for security.
The Sun has claimed, with considerable justification, that Harry's actions hardly suggest a man 'jealously guarding his privacy'. That when there was a just request for safeguarding privacy as when Prince William was proceeding on honeymoon with his bride Kate, all newspapers respected that request. It has also been pointed out that previously, in another case, the PCC had ruled in favour of a UK magazine which had published pictures already widely seen online. On that occasion the Commission had ruled that 'the images were so widely established for it to be untenable for the Commission to rule that it was wrong for the magazine to use them.' That raises the very pertinent question why this case should be treated any differently and it is the answer to that that poses, as The Sun describes it, 'a crucial test of Britain's free press'.
The episode leaves Buckingham Palace between a rock and a hard place. If it backs down from its warning to the papers not to publish the images, it loses face; on the other hand if it proceeds with the matter now that the pictures have been published in spite of its warning, it is not something on which it will have a great deal of public support given that most of the media will rally around to protest its freedom and it will all be seen only as an attempt to cover the indiscretions of a prominent member of its family who should really be behaving with a little more decorum given his position and status.
It is all rather reminiscent of the days way back in the 1930s when Harry's great grand uncle, Edward VIII was having a rather steamy affair with Wallace Simpson, an American divorcee still married to her second husband. This was before the days of the web but anybody who was able to see even hazily in front of his nose knew exactly what was going on and US magazines imported into the UK carried pictures which left little doubt. Yet, British newspapers had to keep away from it all. Those, of course, were the days of Empire and rather more depended on the image of the Royal family than does today. But it just shows, Empire or no Empire, imperial habits die hard.

 
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