Harry and Meghan legal warning latest twist in royal paparazzi feud

Ben Quinn

The publication of photographs showing the Duchess of Sussex with her baby son in Canada has prompted a warning by the royal couple’s lawyers against running images taken in such circumstances.

The warning comes as a debate over paparazzi photos was reignited after some sections of the press broke a self-imposed embargo introduced after the death of Prince Harry’s mother, Diana, more than two decades ago.

Here, Ben Quinn assesses the background of a long running and bitter spat between Prince Harry – and the paparazzi.

How did the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, change the British media?

No formal pact was entered into, but the death of Harry’s mother following a high speed pursuit of her car through Paris by photographers resulted in a public backlash against sections of the press who had chronicled her every move.

Eight days after her death in 1997, the Daily Mail pledged to ban paparazzi photographs from its pages, claiming that it was “leading the way” with the move.

Others too embraced hitherto alien notions of privacy in an echo of a “gentlemen’s” agreement that had already been in place from 1995 in relation to coverage, or the lack of it, of Prince William going to Eton at the age of 13.

Other changes included a strengthening of the editor’s code of practice by the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) and, in the year after Diana’s death, the introduction of The Protection from Harassment Act (PHA).

Did it last?

While the informal understanding between the royals and Fleet Street was renewed in 2000, the pact began to fray after William went to university. There was a change in pace too after the profile of the Duchess of Cambridge, then Kate Middleton, grew.

While much has been made recently of the intensely critical attitude taken by Harry and Meghan towards media coverage, back in 2007 Kate was making police complaints about the paparazzi’s pursuit of her following a break-up from William.

What provoked the latest row?

The images which sparked a legal warning by the couple show Meghan walking with the couple’s son, Archie, in Canadian woodland. They have been used in a number of outlets, notably on the front page of the Sun, and were said to have been taken by photographers concealed in bushes.

Last year Harry accepted substantial damages and an apology from a news agency that took aerial photographs of his Cotswolds home, forcing him and Meghan to move out.

However, the new photos from Canada are said by lawyers for the Sussexes to have been part of a spate of “unacceptable” paparazzi behaviour, including attempts to photograph them inside their home using long-range lenses.

Will the couple’s move toward spending most of their time in north America make a difference to how the media cover them?

According to Mark Thompson, CEO of the New York Times and a former BBC director general, it is possible that by ”not doing the kind of things that the paparazzi and celebrity hounds find interesting, you begin to have a quieter life”.

On the other hand, in the US at least, there are broader freedoms over issues such as privacy, the paparazzi are not constrained by the informal rules draw up following the death of Diana and the couple are moving to an environment in which supermarket tabloids and website such as TMZ remain as popular as ever.

The notion that the “gloves will come off” in terms of UK press coverage of Meghan and Harry was rejected by Ian Murray, executive director of the Society of Editors.

Will the couple’s move to north America mean anything in terms of their legal protection and remedies available to them?

The existence in British Columbia, where Meghan has recently been photographed, of a “privacy act” enabling people to take legal actions “against someone who unreasonably invades their privacy” has been cited in some quarters.

As for Britain, the same codes remain in place governing press use of images irrespective of where they have been taken.

Ian Murray argued that the press had taken great care and made strong steps towards self regulation through initiatives such as the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), saying: “That is not going to be thrown out just because Harry and Meghan have said they want to step out of the limelight.”

But he predicted that there would be a “healthy debate” about privacy and censorship, which would take account of how the press had the right to cover public figures.

“There are guidelines there about what is public and what is private and they will still apply,” he added. Within them, it was “a bit rich saying you can only take photos when we want you to.”

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