Prince Harry gets such bad press in the UK because the papers are terrified

In the British newspapers, there was precious little attention given to Prince Harry’s landmark legal victory against the Mirror Group Newspapers. A High Court judge ruled that Harry had proved 15 out of 33 instances of phone hacking or illegal newsgathering by the Mirror, dated back to when Harry was in his teens and early 20s. The pre-verdict coverage was exceptionally nasty for Harry for years, because the British newspapers act as a cartel, especially when it comes to existential threats like “hacking victims seeking justice.” None of the red-top papers featured Harry’s victory on their front pages, and only the Guardian did any kind of substantial coverage of what Harry’s victory means. The Guardian also published some interesting columns, and I wanted to talk about this one written by James Hanning, a former editor with the Independent: “You may not like Prince Harry but his win against the Mirror is huge – and he’s not finished yet.” Some highlights:

Phone hacking was widespread across the tabloids: How did it work? Initially, it was done by experts sitting in dingy suburban offices, but then the editors and their accountants realised there was no need for the experts, and it became a free-for-all. Why pay for a hack to stand on someone’s doorstep when you could get someone in the office to do some “finger-fishing”, as it was sometimes called, on any number of people? Anyone could have a go….All this was denied for years, of course. No, no. Anything the press did was in the public interest, though that was debatable, and certainly not in the face of laws designed to stop illegal snooping. One newspaper even had a “hack off” contest, to see who could hack the most phones in a given period. It was won by a senior executive who has so far escaped justice.

A curious suggestion: About a dozen years ago, I was told that a senior executive on a red-top paper had suggested to the police that there be an amnesty for phone hackers. He knew how widespread and how normal it was. He knew it was systemic and smiled upon, and had been made indispensable by bosses, but to my knowledge the police dropped the idea pretty quickly. The bad guys would have got off without penalty, and any number of Milly Dowler moments – the hacking of that murdered girl’s phone by the News of the World – would have been buried.

Harry isn’t done: You may or may not like Prince Harry. You may think he is a damaged young man who has had too much therapy following the highly public death of his mother. Even allowing for the creation of hateful narratives about the influence and ethnic background of his wife, in most circumstances he would be a candidate for widespread public sympathy, but there is little sign of that in the way his activities are reported. If you have ever wondered why Prince Harry gets such a bad press, consider the context. For Britain’s most popular newspapers, the backstory is terrifying. This is a man on a mission, and while you may say he is tilting at windmills in trying to reconfigure the British media, it will clearly take more than a bit of personal abuse to stop him. The newspapers may or may not be guilty, but the legal costs, let alone the reputational ones, of trying to prove their innocence, and the costs of defending subsequent claims from aggrieved celebrities, will be breathtaking.

How Britain got to this state: Quite how things have come to this ought to be a mystery, but it isn’t. The former Press Complaints Commission was asleep at the wheel and almost completely failed to keep tabs on how new technology had made unlawful snooping a piece of cake. And the police crossed their fingers and hoped that, after a few junior execs had gone to prison and a lot of money had been spent, the last-chance saloon had learned its lesson. They had no idea of the depth of the problem, that there was in effect a boozy lock-in going on. That is the party Harry and his friends want to break up, and he, Elton John and others have the money to do it.

[From The Guardian]

Here’s what I don’t understand – when someone like Piers Morgan comes out and throws his “hit dogs will holler” hissy fit, why didn’t all of Piers’ former colleagues stand up and promptly throw him under the bus and talk about all of the times they witnessed him hacking or talking about hacking? What’s stopping the Mirror from wrapping this all up in a “few bad apples” defense yet again? Is it because all of this is based on mutually assured destruction among tabloid journalists and editors? The code of omerta where no one can admit what happened – and what is still happening – because the whole system falls apart?

Photos courtesy of Avalon Red.

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