Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, are tearing up long-standing rules of engagement with the media as they try to bypass “frequent misreporting” by royal correspondents and tell their stories to handpicked outlets and directly to the public.
In a statement accompanying the shock announcement late Wednesday that they would be stepping back from their duties as senior royals, the couple wrote that they will no longer participate in the Royal Rota system, the pool of British journalists that for decades has covered all royal events and shares information and photos with other media.
Removing themselves from the pool would limit their engagement with what has become one of their biggest headaches — the British tabloids. But the move could backfire, especially as the extraordinary break with the Royal Family is only likely to spark even greater interest.
“The fact is they have made themselves a bigger story than they were this time last week. And everything and anything they do now is of more interest,” said David Yelland, who was editor of The Sun from 1998 to 2003 and now runs Kitchen Table Partners, a communications company.
The couple have had a rough time with the media since getting together, speaking out against what they say is the relentless and aggressive coverage of Meghan specifically, some of which Prince Harry has described as containing “racial undertones.” Last year, 72 women members of the UK parliament authored a joint letter condemning coverage of her, calling it “colonial,” “outdated,” and an invasion of privacy.
“Britain’s Royal Correspondents are regarded internationally as credible sources of both the work of members of the Royal Family as well as of their private lives,” the couple said in their statement. “This misconception propels coverage that is often carried by other outlets around the world, amplifying frequent misreporting.”
Three of the newspaper groups represented in the Royal pool are already being sued by the couple. Last October, Meghan sued the Mail on Sunday for publishing private letters to her father, which the couple said were selectively edited. Days later Prince Harry sued the owners of The Sun and the Daily Mirror for allegedly hacking his voicemails.
In a lengthy statement at the time, Prince Harry alleged the British tabloid press was waging a campaign against Meghan that mirrored the treatment meted out to his mother, Princess Diana, who was hounded by the paparazzi until her death in 1997.
“I’ve seen what happens when someone I love is commoditised to the point that they are no longer treated or seen as a real person,” Harry said in October. “I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces.”
By writing their own rules of engagement with the media, the couple said they will have more freedom to post their own photos without needing to give them to the British press first.
“This [pool] formula enables these select publications to profit by publishing these images on their websites/front pages,” they wrote. “Any breach in this understanding creates long term repercussions.”
The News Media Association, which organizes the pool, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Seal of approval
The couple said they plan to engage with “grassroots media organizations and young, up-and-coming journalists,” and will invite specialist media to events, and provide access to “credible media outlets.”
“The Duke and Duchess believe in a free, strong and open media industry, which upholds accuracy and fosters inclusivity, diversity and tolerance,” they wrote, noting their work with outlets such as Time Magazine, Vogue and The Daily Telegraph.
The National Union of Journalists said the couple appeared to be trying to “prevent the media from functioning and compromising the ability of journalists to do their jobs.”
“The [pool] system is not perfect, but it does allow UK media to cover the British Royal Family — an institution maintained by the public purse,” the Union’s general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said in a statement. “We cannot have a situation where journalists writing about the Duke and Duchess of Sussex can only do so if they have the Royal seal of approval.”
And some royal correspondents bristled at the suggestion they’re not always credible and accurate. Camilla Tominey from the Telegraph tweeted that royal correspondents had “accurately reported that there was a growing rift” in the Royal Family and that the couple were not consulting with the Queen. “Cut these misinformants loose already!” she wrote.
Yelland said the couple had been treated unfairly by the British press, but so had every Royal at some point.
“Clearly Meghan and Harry don’t want to go along with what you might call the social contract … where they get kicked around in the media but it’s a stiff upper lip and you carry on,” he said.
Yelland pointed out that Wednesday’s bombshell announcement may have been rushed, ironically, because of a report in The Sun that the couple was planning to move to Canada for a significant part of the year and were considering their Royal roles.