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Princess Diana's Death: After Naked Prince Harry Pictures Have The Press Learnt To Respect Royal Privacy?

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When news broke of Princess Diana's death in a car crash in Paris, headlines about her being “hounded to her death” by the paparazzi were splashed across the papers.

Fifteen years later her two sons are facing similar battles over their privacy, with the pictures of Prince Harry naked that emerged last week crystallising the debate over press intrusion and ethical journalism.

Prince Harry's modesty was protected by most of the British newspapers, who refused to publish the pictures. Whilst many editors claimed it was to respect his privacy, some accused the media of cosying up to the royals.

prince harry


The young royal was in Sin City for a weekend break, having completed his first official overseas tour and fulfilled his role as an Olympic Ambassador.

Controversially Rupert Murdoch ordered The Sun to run the pictures. In the wake of the Leveson Inquiry and the possibility of a tighter media guidelines, he claimed running the Prince Harry pictures was a "crucial test" of Britain's free press.

But if Prince Harry's bottom can be splashed across the front page, where should the press draw the line?

prince harry sun

Murdoch said publishing the pictures was a test of the free press

A UK inquest into Princess Diana's death four years ago ruled she was killed in a car crash because her driver and pursuing paparazzi were reckless - behaviour tantamount to manslaughter.

After her death the editors' code of practice was changed, with any kind of harassment forbidden. The Press Complaints Commission said it would more carefully monitor when newspapers were at risk of intrusion.

princess diana

Princess Diana was one of the most photographed women in the world

However pictures of the royals sharing private moments continue to emerge. Kate and William were snapped on their honeymoon with a telephoto lens and one publication was sued when the couple were pictured on a yacht. Are today's young royals to battle with the press in the same way that Princess Diana did or have we learnt our lesson?

Peter Sands has worked as a writer and editor on newspapers for almost 30 years and now runs Press Association training. He told The Huffington Post UK that the press still view the royals as “fair game” but more editors are hestitating in the wake of Leveson.

“There’s been no real backlash against the press since Diana died, the major factor affecting the press has been Leveson, the closure of the News of the World and phone hacking. It means the media will stand off investigative work. At the moment they are licking their wounds.”

kate and william

Clarence House are fiercely protective of Kate and William's privacy

Sands suggests the resurgance of royal popularity and the pomp and ceremony of the jubilee year protected the Prince and Duchess of Cambridge from having their honeymoon pictures published.

"There’s been a swing of popularity towards Kate and William and the press don’t want to rock the boat. The pictures of Kate in her bikini didn’t make her look good," Sands opines. "If you had published them you would have faced a backlash from readers.

"I don't think the press made the decision collectively on the pictures, they just decided what their readers wanted. "

His view was echoed by Stephen Baxter of the New Statesman who argued: "The stock of the royal family is at such a high that newspapers fear a reader backlash more than the regulators."

The press watchdog received 3600 complaints after the Sun chose to publish the pictures of naked Prince Harry,

princess diana

The press would follow Princess Diana wherever she went.

However for Sands, it is the Leveson Inquiry that is influencing editors' decisions, not the death of Diana.

"Newspapers aren’t behaving any differently because of the death of Diana," he claims.

"The press still published pictures of Prince Harry dressed as a Nazi.

"It’s the Leveson Inquiry that’s made things change. We’ve seen it in training. It’s much more important to papers to make sure people are up to scratch with their media ethics, and making sure journalists aren’t crossing the line."

The national editor of the Guardian, Dan Roberts, sent the following tweet during the Leveson Inquiry

Professor Nick Couldry of Goldsmiths College in London told The Huffington Post UK that editors may have been cautious over the Harry pictures because of Leveson but raised concerns over how news is actually gathered, rather than what is published.

“I would expect some caution by newspaper editors and their much-criticised regulator, the Press Complaints Commission, in relation to the highest profile cases, such as those involving the Royal Family.

“But that is very different from an actual change in the standards and ethics of how most news is gathered.”

princess diana

Princess Diana captured the hearts of the nation. But her popularity was a double-edged sword and she was hounded by the press

He suggests Murdoch’s reasons for publishing the pictures of Harry were unlikely to motivated by concerns over a free press.

"I am sceptical about the claims of The Sun to have published the recent Prince Harry photos out of an altruistic desire to assert the values of a free press: the potential commercial advantage of publication was obvious, and the risks, given the already very wide general circulation of the photos, of any legal action being taken by the Royal Family were fairly minimal."

Media lawyer Mark Thompson told the Leveson Inquiry that the paparazzi had not learnt their lessons from Diana's death. However Couldry believes the true test of that is yet to be seen.

"The real test of whether British journalistic culture has shifted to bring aspects of it more into line with the ethical standards that its readers might expect of public institutions will be how effectively and promptly the press responds to Leveson's actual recommendations. We must wait and see."

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Princess Diana 1 July 1961 – 31 August 1997
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