When British papers won’t run the naked pictures of Prince Harry, you know something’s changed.
The Press Complaints Commission, on behalf of St James’s Palace, warned British papers that it was not in the public interest to run copies of the photos.
Ever since the Leveson Inquiry into press standards, the papers have looked more nervous – not universally, but more than they were prior to the phone hacking scandal.
The Prince Harry photos, exposed by TMZ – who else seems to break these stories now? – were quickly all over the web. But others hesitated. The Daily Mail site, which judges everyone’s bodies, avoided them. The Mirror, similarly. Only The Sun ran a somewhat full version of the photo on the front page, but it later transpired that the photos were not the real deal – staffers had ‘posed’ for them.
The Sun however revealed that it planned to run the ‘real deal’ photos on Friday.
You could argue that the pictures are from a private hotel room and therefore an invasion of privacy. You can also argue that the third in line to the throne has no reasonable expectation of privacy. And then there’s the third argument – they’re already online, so why not print them?
In fact, if you type “Prince Harry Vegas pictures” into Google, you get 154 million results. Everyone looked the moment they heard about them, and almost everyone agreed that he looks fit.
So, if the British papers are afraid to run the photos everyone’s seen, does that mean they’re neutered?
Just because something’s online, doesn’t mean you have to repeat it. Endless conspiracy theories flood the web, ranging from the assassination of JFK, to the building of the pyramids, to the events of 11 September. You wouldn’t expect a newspaper to run them just as you wouldn’t expect most websites to.
The whole point of the internet seems to be that you do whatever the heck you like, and people visit you anyway.
If UK newspapers don’t run nude pictures of Prince Harry, I’m not too worried. If they fail to run a story about corruption or criminality for fear of Lord Justice Leveson, then I’m more concerned.
So this comes down to a debate over what you expect from your newspapers in a digital age.
If you look up the names of Julian Assange‘s alleged rape victims in Sweden, you get more than 100,000 results. The former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan named one of them on the BBC‘s Newsnight on Monday claiming it was already in the public domain. It is illegal to name victims or alleged victims to varying degrees around the globe, and rightly so. Even if not illegal, it would surely be immoral.
So does the availability of a victim’s name online justify the repetition in print? No.
If you believe democracy is defined by whatever the majority says, then by all means, hand over the running of government and society to the Internet mob. However, there has to be a hesitation and responsibility for the establishment of a “civil” society, especially from news organisations that are intent on convincing readers to trust them, while preaching whatever brand of morality they peddle.
In the case of nude pictures of a royal, yes, that’s very different to rape victims. But the debate still applies. If the palace blocked publication of photos that were globally available online, then that’s censorship.
If the papers CHOOSE not to run them out of respect for the privacy of the situation or because it’s not newsworthy, then they are entitled to do so. The very freedom of expression that
allows the web to do anything, also allows print or other media to do whatever they want.
Maybe the UK press now “thinks before it prints” – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing in a civil society, depending on what content it self-censors.
It really depends on what you want to see. If you expect all your news organisations to run nude pictures of a prince, then we need to question what’s important to the news world and what really matters to the public.
Because if the public all want to see Prince Harry naked – and let’s be honest, everyone did yesterday – then whose libido do you want neutered? That of the press? Or your own?