Sat Aug 25th, 2012 at 03:24:47 AM EST
And so the third in line to the throne, on army leave, goes out on a wild weekend with a selection of his mates to Las Vegas. And during this weekend, along with swimming in the pool with Olympic medal winners, ends up, as a single man in his mid twenties moving the party back to his room with a group of local women. In the course of this, someone being under the influence of alcohol suggests a game of strip pool, and at some point either through lack of skill or native cunning, the prince and his female playmate both end up naked, and pictures get taken. So much so far for the normal story of youthful royals. It's not unusual, he's a squaddie and an ex rugby player and if you've ever been to one of their paries and people didn't end up drunk and naked at some point when off base, you'd wonder what was going on. If it wasn't for the fact of his position in the life of the nation, it wouldn't even rate a line in a local newspaper.
However being the royal celebrity that he is, the pictures flashed round the world, being published in a variety of international websites and from there onto a variety of international newspapers. In other times there would be a rush of UK tabloid hacks for the airport, and desperate attempts to buy the film before any of the competitors laid their hands on it. This doesn't appear to have happened.
Over the last two days the tabloids and a selection of their journalists and ex journalists have been crying foul, and saying that through fear of Leveson they have been restrained. That is one possible view but it seems most unpersuasive to me.
In a case where the person is a senior member of the royal family, it could be argued that there is a level of public interest in activities that in any other case would be private, and so the argument for non-publication is at best tenuous. However by holding off publication for 24 or 48 hours, tabloid papers could generate a level of sympathy at the supposedly mighty Lord Leveson restraining their publication, when in fact it could be considered that the papers had delayed publication to create publicity and increase circulation when the pictures were actually published.
Is it a case that they're standing up for the freedom of the press? You would think that if it had really been about that then the decision to publish would have been made 24 hours earlier than it actually has. Yesterday evening the Sun decided to print a copy of the pictures, using posed models (an editor of the paper standing in for Harry, and an unnamed intern standing in for the young lady involved). What is added to the story by a day later printing a pair of almost identical copies of the actual pictures is hard to grasp. Is it a grand gesture for press freedom? Or should we instead judge it purely on the original's photographic skills or the Sun staff's gymnastic ability?
By pushing in this way, it may change the terrain of the ultimate argument when the Leveson report hits the shelves. Instead of the argument revolving around the Dowler and McCann cases, and the morally questionable activities that were involved in generating those stories, those pushing against any form of regulation of the press, like those who have a business model based on the exploitation of celebrity culture, will now have a glowing example of why the tabloids should not be regulated. The fact that this is based on a non-threat is something that will be lost in the background.
Lord Justice Leveson may be several weeks into reading and writing in preparation for publishing his report, but this action may have shown some details into sharp relief, several reporters have said that this is an attempt to stand up against Leveson, or a big fuck-you from Murdoch, but as the royal family are such public property, it's hard to say that they are even covered by the Judge's report. The last two days might have him starting over again, but it's a desperate throw of the dice by the newspapers to try to wind the clock back to those days before the Dowler story exploded and they were kings. Whether it succeeds is something that shouldn't just be left in the hands of journalists, newspaper owners and politicians.