Wow. What a statement. What a way to end a 10-day milestone royal tour.
For the journalists in Johannesburg covering the final leg of the Sussexes' trip to Africa, the subtle ping of a message dropping totally belied the scale of the news that was to follow. Just when we thought that we were on the home stretch, ahead of the final day of the trip (confession, I was ready for bed), word that the couple were launching legal action against the Mail on Sunday kick-started a whole new cycle of coverage.
However, the level of interest wasn't simply because the Sussexes had announced a legal challenge to a specific British publication. It was also because of the jaw-dropping personal statement that Harry wrote to accompany the announcement.
Posted on a website that appeared to exist entirely for the purpose of hosting the statement (away from the couple's other official channels and the official Buckingham Palace website, where it has yet to be referenced), the message was extraordinary, even by the standards of a couple who have issued previously searing statements. Personal, emotional, and brimming with outrage at what he described as a "ruthless campaign" against his wife, Harry's 565 words read in some ways like the email many of us draft in haste but never send. But its contents also made it clear that this defense (or attack) is something that has been simmering for a long time.
Many would argue, and have argued, that this approach is entirely justified. Meghan has been on the receiving end of an explosion of coverage, a lot of it critical and not all of it accurate. No one would contradict the prince's assertion that online coverage now tends to be cumulative, building like an avalanche ("one day's coverage is no longer tomorrow's chip paper") and that this considerably amplifies the intensity of the spotlight.
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It is also hard to read the statement without feeling significant sympathy for the real and genuine pain he describes they have felt. Harry's continued grief over his mother is palpable, and he clearly adores Meghan and wants to protect her. It is obvious that this raw emotion has driven his words.
The legal proceedings relate to the Mail on Sunday and its parent company, Associated Newspapers, and were filed on Sunday September 29 and processed by the court the following day. Particulars need to be filed by October 14, but the information supplied so far makes it clear that the proceedings relate to "the unlawful publication of a private letter." (Last February, the Mail on Sunday published a lengthy letter Meghan wrote to her father, asking him to stop speaking to the press.)
The legal firm Schillings, which represents the Sussexes in this matter, provided a statement also describing "a campaign by this media group to publish false and deliberately derogatory stories about her, as well as her husband." The Mail on Sunday has so far responded by saying it stands by the story published and will "be defending this case vigorously."
"There is a human cost to this relentless propaganda, specifically when it is knowingly false and malicious, and though we have continued to put on a brave face, I cannot begin to describe how painful it has been." —Prince Harry
Harry's personal statement, however, covered far more ground. In addition to the "digital age," he spoke of a "British tabloid press that wages campaigns with no thought to the consequences." He also described the "double standards" of "this specific press pack" when referring to positive coverage of the latest tour. It is not clear if his use of the term "press pack" is intended to refer to the journalists traveling to cover the trip, but this group, of which I am a member, did not, incidentally, include a reporter from the Mail on Sunday.
(For those unfamiliar with British media ecosystem, The Mail on Sunday is a U.K. tabloid that is the sister title to the Daily Mail. The two newspapers are run separately, with different editors and reporters, but stories from both papers run on the same website. There is also a significant—and separate—digital team that produces stories for the DailyMail.com.)
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Among the 80 journalists accredited to travel to cover the visit was The Times's long-standing royal correspondent Valentine Low, who wrote the paper's front page story today about the legal proceedings from Johannesburg. (The Times is a venerable daily newspaper.) Describing Harry's statement as "astonishing," Low added that it "appeared to tar all the royal media with the same brush and certainly tarred all the tabloid royal media with the same brush when in fact specifically in this instance it is an argument that he's got with the Mail on Sunday."
Low also shared how the timing of the statement meant that his paper cut a story about the royal tour to make way for a big piece on the legal proceedings and that he was no longer able to travel to write about the couple meeting the President Ramaphosa because he needed to dedicate more time to writing about the legal story. "It has completely overshadowed the tour," he said.
This was a sentiment echoed by many of the journalists on the trip. Palace sources said that the timing was based on "specific legal advice," but many were still confused about why this meant the announcement had to come when it did. ITV's Royal Editor Chris Ship relayed how his network cut an "emotional" story about gender-based violence from its 10 p.m. bulletin to make way for a piece about Harry and Meghan's relationship with the press. "All the good work that they've done previously—and let's be clear, they've done a lot of good work and they've had a lot of good publicity—and I just feel like it's ending on a sour note," says Ship.
Indeed, the tour was impeccably planned, and over the past 10 days the couple successfully worked to shift the focus onto the issues faced by people across South Africa, Botswana, Angola, and Malawi. In an unusual turn for any royal, they had also engaged considerably with the media, conducting several interviews with journalists at various points on the trip.
As well as the traveling media, around 300 journalists were accredited to cover the visit locally across the four countries. Among them was Malungelo Booi, a correspondent for Newsroom Africa based in Johannesburg, who told T&C that he would mention the legal challenge but that, for his audience, the fact that Harry and Meghan were highlighting some of the struggles South African people face was still the more interesting story.
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"Having the Duke and Duchess here, and when that statement was released last night, obviously it was a very strongly-worded statement and you could see there is anger. But for me as a South African journalist, that does not take away the fact that they are here visiting some areas that actually need change," said Booi. "Therefore the story for me still remains the issues about South Africa and the issues they are trying to help the country address."
When asked about whether he had been aware that the couple had been on the receiving end of negative coverage and whether this had resonated as a story in South Africa, he responded, "I've read about the criticism. I don't know if an ordinary South African who is battling to find a job would care so much about that criticism… For an ordinary South African it's all about what are they bringing us? What are they saying to us? Are they bringing us a message of hope?"
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Reporters React to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's Letter to the Press and Their Lawsuit, Source:https://www.prevention.com/life/a29343160/meghan-markle-prince-harry-lawsuit-statement-reporter-reaction/