Meghan And Harry: Why Couple's Fear Of British Tabloids Is Justified

The treatment of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle by the British press is not the exception but the rule.

Among all the bombshells that exploded from the Meghan and Harry interview with Oprah Winfrey, there were several bits that show the absolute power of the British tabloid press.

In the interview, the couple revealed that the royal family is "scared" of it. Harry said the royal family gives access to the tabloid press regularly because "there is a level of control by fear that has existed for generations". Harry also said there's an "invisible contract" between the press and the family.

The interview revealed that the British press also:

  • Published their location in Canada after they had announced that they would step back from their royal duties. This was after the palace had decided not to pay for security for their son Archie.
  • Were racist in their coverage since the couple's relationship was made public in 2016. When Archie was born, for example, he was compared to a chimp by a BBC radio host.
  • Dug into the finances of Meghan's parents and revealed the address of Meghan's aunt.

These are examples out of a long list of harassment endured by the couple at the hands of the British media. During the interview Winfrey pointed out instances of: racist abuse online, "racist overtones" in press coverage, and "constant criticism, blatant sexist and racist remarks by British tabloids and internet trolls." In fact, it was both the constant press harassment and the inability of the royal establishment to protect them that led to Meghan and Harry's decision to step back from their royal duties.

UK's Tabloid Press

The treatment of the couple by the British press is not the exception but the rule. To be clear, there is a clear division in the UK between the 'broadsheet' press and the 'tabloid' press. The former includes respected and famous newspapers such as The Times, The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph. The latter includes The Sun, The Daily Mirror and until it was shut down, News of the World. These two types of newspapers generally stick to their lanes, but not always.

Nick Davies should know. The award-winning investigative journalist from the Guardian was one of the few reporters to dig into the unsavoury methods of the British press. In a series of reports, Davies exposed the phone hacking methods of the tabloid presses owned by Rupert Murdoch such as News of the World or NoW. He showed that newspapers regularly paid (and bribed) to illegally hack into the phones of British royals, celebrities and politicians — all in the hunt for a story. His actions forced the British government to form the Leveson Inquiry and the closing down of the NoW. All this though was not enough to increase the quality of the British tabloids, which have continued to operate in the same manner (if not with the same illegality).

Davies writes in his book Flat Earth News about the British tabloid press and notably, The Daily Mail (not owned by Murdoch) that the journalism they practise is bit like a gardener, "who digs out and throws away weeds and stones and anything else which he does not want and then plants whatever he fancies. The story, in other words, is a model of the subtle art of distortion. Aggressive distortion."

He also writes, "There is a recurrent theme of invading privacy — of Tony Blair's schoolboy son; of a ten-year-old girl whose father was targeted by the Mail for his affairs with teenagers; of the Aga Khan and his wife, who were photographed on the deck of their yacht (the Mail said that if they wanted their privacy, they should stay below deck). In one case, the published a photograph which allowed the victim of a sexual assault to be identified."

Alan Rusbridger, the former editor-in-chief of The Guardian writes of learning the dubious methods of the press as a trainee reporter for the Cambridge Evening News in the 1970s. He is 'trained' by the chief reporter of the newspaper, known as 'Jock':

"Early in my time as a trainee reporter Jock told us about the ritual for covering Scottish hangings. This involved befriending the murderer's soon-to-be widow by promising to write a sympathetic account, possibly hinting at a campaign to demand an 11th-hour reprieve. Once he'd extracted the quote and purloined the family photographs the reporter would, on exit, shout at the distraught soon-to-be widow that her husband was an evil bastard who deserved to rot in hell.

'Why do you do that?'

'So that the next reporter to turn up wouldn't get through the door.'

That was what real reporting was about. Get the story, stuff the opposition."

India's Press is getting there

Given the behaviour of the British tabloid press, it is little wonder then that Meghan and Harry have had such a tough time of it. There is no reason to believe the years of toxic coverage will end. If anything, it might get worse.

Rupee for rupee, India's press has probably got a lot more problems than the British press. But in its treatment of famous people and those who gain notoriety, the mainstream print papers have been almost holy in comparison. India's newspapers are not divided in quality along the lines of 'broadsheets' and 'tabloids'. However, television news has more than made up for this lack of sensationalism, harassment and conspiracy theories. If the coverage of Sushant Singh Rajput's death for several months starting 14 June 2020 is anything to go by, we are already there. Till recently, India's royal households, Bollywood and cricket celebrities were relatively sealed off by the unwritten rules of decency, but the change has already begun.

Updated On: 2021-03-09T16:29:36+05:30
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