Harry and Meghan
Like his mother Princess Diana before him, Prince Harry has had a complicated relationship with the media, which has tracked his every move as part of Britain’s most famous family.
But after increasingly outspoken complaints about press coverage, he and wife Meghan now want to control their own publicity when they step away from frontline royal duties.
As part of their plan, out goes favoured access to the “royal rota” of mainly newspaper correspondents, set up to pool text, photo and videos to avoid unmanageable media scrums.
In comes handpicked reporters and outlets to promote their chosen causes, with primacy given to social media, on which the couple has made several announcements.
The move has been seen in some quarters as “revenge” on the British media for negative coverage.
But experts warned it could backfire if they do end up living partly in North America, stripped of the protection of carefully choreographed media events and experienced press teams.
“They could find it’s worse than here,” Richard Palmer, who writes on the monarchy for the Daily Express, told AFP.
– Under pressure –
Signs of a split with the media have been brewing since November 2016, when Harry’s spokesman hit out at coverage of Meghan, just months after they began dating.
He claimed some reports had crossed the line into “abuse and harassment”, with clear “racial undertones” and sexism. “This is not a game — it is her life and his,” he warned.
In several interviews before and after their engagement in November 2017, Meghan spoke about the difficulties of coming under such intense interest and daily scrutiny.
Rumours about life behind the scenes have intensified since then, including speculation — all but confirmed by Harry — of a rift with his elder brother, William.
That culminated in another attack on coverage of the couple, now parents to a son, Archie, as they wound up what had been seen as a successful tour of southern Africa.
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Harry spoke of the painful “human cost to this relentless propaganda”, recalling how his mother was pursued relentlessly during and after her marriage to his father Prince Charles.
“I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces,” he said. Diana died in a 1997 Paris car crash, as she was being chased by paparazzi photographers.
– Diana’s legacy –
The enduring image of Harry is of the young, ginger-haired boy following his mother’s coffin at her funeral. He has admitted his attitude to the media is shaped by her fate.
“Every single time I see a camera, every single time I hear a click, every single time I see a flash, it takes me straight back,” he said in an ITV interview last year.
Royal commentator Richard Fitzwilliams told AFP: “There is no doubt he fears that Meghan and Archie would, so to speak, be trapped in a similar way.”
The couple have announced legal action against several newspapers for phone hacking and breach of privacy, in another “rogue” announcement apparently unsanctioned by senior royals.
But it is unlikely the media will take Harry and Meghan’s new media strategy lying down, particularly as they have previously bent over backwards to accommodate specific royal requests.
The UK media upheld an agreement to give Harry and William privacy when they were growing up, allowing them to concentrate on their studies.
Similarly they agreed to a ban on reporting of army officer Harry’s deployment to Afghanistan in 2007 to ensure his safety. That held until foreign outlets leaked the news and he had to withdraw.
– Avoiding scrutiny –
Palmer accepted royal reporters sometimes made mistakes, but said Harry and Meghan had overlooked the mass of positive coverage they had received for their charities and projects.
Arthur Edwards, the veteran royal photographer for The Sun, pointed out they had been left alone on their recent trip to Canada.
“There’s not been one story, adverse or otherwise, about them,” he told Sky News.
But attempts by prominent figures and celebrities using social media to shape a positive, uncritical narrative about themselves, without a media filter, is becoming increasingly common.
Palmer linked it to politicians shutting out “unsupportive” media.
“This looks like a disgraceful attempt to avoid scrutiny and cherry-pick journalists to cover their work who will never reflect any controversy or criticism,” he said.
But ultimately it could just spur more unrestrained coverage, he added.
“I suspect they will have paps (paparazzi) outside their house quite regularly and possibly chasing them in cars or on motorbikes,” said Palmer.
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