Tuesday 28 August 2012

Publishing the Harry photos WAS in the public interest

I rarely agree with Rupert Murdoch. But in this instance I think he's absolutely right; the Sun's publication of the Prince Harry photos was completely justified and in the public interest.

Let me put my cards on the table to begin with. Despite considering myself a progressive liberal in many ways, and despite often having plenty of rather bitter anti-British sentiment welling up inside me, I'm also an unashamed card-carrying royalist. If Carlsberg made monarchies, theirs would live at Buck House without question. So those are the filtered glasses through which I view this whole affair.

I'm rather ambivalent about Prince Harry in general. Playboy princes are nothing new and if he wants to take advantage of his situation to go off to Vegas, stay in a $5000 a night suite, get battered and get a load of blonde American girls to strip for him, then fair play (as long as it's not the taxpayer who pays, and in this case it wasn't). I've no doubt that I'd think he was a bit of a cock if I met him, but there are plenty of people who are a bit of a cock. I would say that up to a point, it's his decision what he does with his life, and it doesn't bother me personally what he gets up to.

Now the public interest question is important. As the phone hacking stories - and many others besides - have shown, The Sun has no moral perch whatsoever from which to preach on this issue. They have shown time and again that they will bend and break every rule, whether written or unwritten, regarding press ethics and I hope that the Leveson enquiry come up with some robust conclusions and recommendations. The "public interest" defence is used widely to justify all sorts of horrendous invasions of privacy to do with vacuous celebrities, with weak lines trotted out about how because someone has earned a wad of cash from selling albums or movies, that they have some sort of moral obligation as a "role model". This is all nonsense.

But in Harry's case, I think there is undoubtedly a public interest at stake here. Prince Harry is third in line to the throne, which means that anything he says and does could be taken to represent the Royal Family as a whole, whether in public or in private. I'm not particularly interested in whether this party counts as public or private; a bit like the little boy from Sparta, it's the fact that it was allowed to enter the public domain at all that is the issue. And why is it in the public interest? For me, it is the question of whether Harry has brought the Royal Family into disrepute.

Hold your fire, Eoghan, I hear you say; how could a lad taking advantage of his situation and acting like a (relatively) normal bloke possibly be interpreted as bringing the Royal Family into disrepute? I refer you back  to my comment that the British Royal Family is the blueprint for royal families around the world.

The British Royal Family is no bicycle monarchy. It sits proudly on pillars of dusty Victorian ideals and nostalgia. Over the last sixty years, with little help from her offspring, The Queen has made an exhausting effort to make the monarchy a symbol of respectability and stability - of apolitical elegance.

Never was this better summed up for me than in the magnificent scene with James Bond in the Olympic opening ceremony. The Queen's appearance was terse; she said a total of four words. Out of context, the scene was staid and dull. It was only in the context that The Queen has created - a monarchy which does not doff its hat to frivolity - that her cameo was so brilliant. Professional as ever, but allowing a flash of humour to escape, it was a performance which lasted seconds but which had been rehearsed for six decades. Prince Harry himself could actually have jumped out of the helicopter and parachuted into the stadium and it would not have created as much of an impact. But where the values of the monarchy are diluted, its effectiveness wanes, and Harry's antics may have gone against the grain of the values that The Queen upholds so dear.

As such, the monarchy is a symbol of Britishness overseas, which cannot be doubted by royalists or republicans alike. Which means that if there is a possibility that Harry has brought the monarchy into disprepute, there is also the possibility that he has brought the entire country into disrepute; Brand Britain may have been damaged. I do not pass judgement on whether he has; I honestly don't know where I stand on the issue (not sure I'm bothered either way). But the possibility exists that he has. Which, in my mind, means that this is sans doute an issue that is in the public interest and something which should be discussed in the open. With the evidence for all to see.

As ever, views are personal.

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