House Sussex made some big moves last week. First, on the second to last day of their tour of southern Africa, Prince Harry launched Love Shield 2019 and announced that Meghan Markle was suing the Daily Mail. It was his letter that made the most headlines, a passionate, angry scolding of the “press pack”, many of whom were currently on the tour with him and Meghan, for their relentless attacks against his wife. Then on Friday, it was revealed that he’s also suing the publishers of The Sun and the Mirror for hacking, believed to be accusations that date back a number of years, all of which puts the Love Shield 2019 into larger context.
As I noted on Friday, it was Hollywood timing. This is a practised celebrity move – to make announcements on Friday afternoon, when many members of the media have packed up to go home, and typically, for Hollywood celebrities, it’s because they DON’T want the attention, hoping that the impact of the bomb will be mitigated because of the weekend. In Harry’s case, it was because he was hoping to take the media by surprise, so that they could stew over it during the weekend.
Consider also the source of the breaking news – not via the BBC or any major news outlet but Byline Investigates, a website dedicated to calling out media malfeasance, particularly in the UK, where phone hacking was a major story in the mid-2000s, resulting in the closure of one of UK’s biggest tabloids, the News of the World. Lawsuits related to accusations from that situation are still ongoing. So it’s not an accident that Harry’s lawsuit against The Sun and the Mirror were first reported by Byline Investigates. There is a connection here – and Byline Investigates on Saturday followed up its initial story with more details.
Harry’s lawsuit apparently “will stretch back to include allegations of reporters and private investigators listening to messages about the Prince left on his mother’s phone when he was a child”.
Piers Morgan’s name is coming up a lot, as he was managing several tabloids during the mid-90s and 2000s when the hacking was happening. As we’ve seen, Piers has been popping off consistently at Meghan since she and Harry started dating. There is no doubt that Prince Harry is coming for him. And according to Byline Investigates, he’s accusing these publications of “concealment and destruction ”– basically alleging that they not only obtained information illegally but that they destroyed the evidence to hide their crimes. Here’s what’s most interesting to me:
The ‘concealment and destruction case’ was first raised by other victims of phone hacking two years ago in the High Court.
Prince Harry’s claim will incorporate the existing case, but it is expected to significantly strengthen it because of his stature, and the nature of his own case-specific allegations.
So the way I see it, and if you’re a legal expert, please let me know if I’m wrong, this is almost like a class action – Harry’s adding his voice to a choir, it’s just that he happens to be louder. To the victims who’ve already been trying to hold these newspapers accountable, is Harry the hero they were holding out for?
The timing of the filing wasn’t just for public impact though. The Financial Times reports that:
Insiders said one of the main triggers for the legal action was in fact a set of revisions to procedures at London’s High Court, which from October 1 change the division where lawsuits relating to the media are filed.
Had they waited longer, the Duke and Duchess may have had to issue their claims at the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court. Some lawyers see the specialist media judges there as more open to the arguments of publishers than the Chancery Division, the venue for recent high-profile privacy and phone hacking cases.
So this isn’t a slamdunk. Harry may have won some early battles, especially in the court of public opinion, and even that’s debatable, considering they do have their detractors, but this war is just beginning – and it’s going to be a long, protracted one.
As I wrote on Friday, before Byline Investigates broke the news that Harry was suing The Sun and the Mirror, “Harry and Meghan have steadily increased their social media capital. They’re aware of how popular they are among younger generation and where to best engage with them – and that’s not necessarily The Sun or the Daily Mail. Five years from now, if and when Harry and Meghan go on tour, will The Sun or the Daily Mail and other members of the “press pack” that the Sussexes object to be invited? Is that where we’re headed?”
Per The Financial Times:
In addition to using direct social media channels and tightening up access to staple fodder like pictures of the royal baby, Prince Harry has his sights on the Royal Rota, the self-governing press club that decides who attends events and how material is shared. To the Sussexes, it is “The Cartel”; Buckingham Palace is reviewing the system. But if Prince Harry wants to choose who covers him, he would have to pay for events.
Bruised royal correspondents pine for a better relationship. Jocular Harry used to creep up on them and whisper: “Still writing bollocks then?” These days “he just glowers”, said one old hand.
In Harry’s mind, then, this is a personal crusade against organised crime. It’s clearly one of his priorities – to be the one to bring down a system. Members of that system feel they are being unfairly maligned and are going to argue that he’s the one infringing on their rights and freedoms. So both sides see themselves as Braveheart which, I know, in Harry’s case is kind of ironic since William Wallace was fighting against the English. This is going to get really ugly and for Harry, beyond whatever will result from this conflict, what impact this will have on Harry going forward, not just in public but in private?
Harry and Meghan are newly married, new parents. They’ve already taken on a lot. Now they’re preparing to go to war. Right now, they’re solid. They’re totally unified. But marriage in the spotlight, as we’ve seen, is not easy. It’s hard enough at the best of times. Already, though, even without these lawsuits, they’ve been a heatscore for the last three years. It’s about to get much, much hotter.