The internet has, today, been buzzing with stories about Prince Harry “cavorting naked” in his hotel suite in Las Vegas. It is said that the photographs are available on US celebrity websites – but the British press have rightly held back from publishing even “edited highlights”. The RPC Privacy Blog has drawn attention to the views of former News of the World Deputy Editor, Neil Wallis, about the reasons for this restraint by his former colleagues.
Mr Wallis – described by the Huffington Post “as Media commentator, former tabloid editor and currently under arrest as part of Operation Weeting” – is outraged by the way in which, according to him, his former colleagues are approaching the question of publication. According to him, the decision to whether the photographs should be published is being made on the basis of “What will Lord Leveson think?” (the “Lord” being not promotion but just good old fashioned tabloid inaccuracy).
Mr Wallis – who presumably still knows how his former colleagues in the tabloid press think – believes that, rather than looking at wearisome questions of privacy and public interest, they are simply worrying about what the Lord Justice Leveson might say about them in his report. His Inquiry has, apparently, “left Editors running scared“.
According to Mr Wallis
“Stories about disgraced MPs, high society vice rings, drug-dealing celebrities, philandering tycoons, have all but disappeared from the papers. Not because they’re not there – trust me, they never go away – because even if you can get them past the lawyer you are still to scared to try and get them past His Lordship“.
Note, the slide from a story which has no public interest (“Prince takes off clothes”) to ones which plainly do (“High Society vice rings” etc). Fear that Lord Justice Leveson might object to invasion of privacy in the former case has been transformed into the wholesale suppression of public interest journalism in the latter. It by this kind of sleight of hand that the press has always sought to avoid effective regulation.
Mr Wallis demonstrates the need for such regulation by his own attitude. Though a former member of the Press Complaints Commission he has no time for subtle questions as to whether the printing of such photographs might comply with the clause 3 of the Editors Code. Rather, he follows the traditional view – if it titillates, print it:
“As for the Prince Harry pictures, should they be published? I would. He is third in line to throne, he has been a very major part of the monarchy’s presence at the Olympics, romping with a gang of girls he almost certainly doesn’t know from Adam, in pretty dubious circumstances… And anyway, its fun!”
This is seems likely to be the view of tabloid editors who remain in post. If it wasn’t for the fear of Lord Justice Leveson, they would invade a young man’s privacy without a second thought.
So there we have it. To keep the tabloids in line we need Lord Justice Leveson in permanent session. If this option is not available then statutory regulation seems the next best thing.