Why is he doing it? That’s the question everyone’s been asking since the Duke of Sussex published a deeply personal statement slamming the UK tabloid press for conducting what he called a “ruthless campaign” against his wife, Meghan.
As the bombshell statement was released on a specially-created website, Buckingham Palace confirmed that the Duchess of Sussex was suing The Mail on Sunday for unlawfully publishing private correspondence with her father while editing it to change its meaning. The newspaper’s publishers deny that and cite Meghan’s father, Thomas Markle, as the one who only wanted parts of the letter released.
Separately, Prince Harry has joined a legal action against the publishers of the Sun and Mirror over alleged phone hacking.
The lawsuits are a rare, but not entirely unprecedented, move from the British royal family and they triggered numerous headlines over the weekend. One in the broadsheet Telegraph read “Prince Harry ‘badly advised’ in decision to take on the press.” The article went on to discuss Harry’s “war against the tabloid media.”
“There are fears among those close to the palace that the Prince’s move will put him at the centre of an unnecessary row over the freedom of the press,” the Telegraph’s team of reporters wrote.
Meanwhile, in a column for the Observer, Princess Diana’s former Private Secretary Patrick Jefferson suggested that the strategy could backfire.
But as impulsive as Harry’s statement may feel, the legal maneuvers had been in the works for months, royal sources told CNN.
And there’s nothing to suggest the 35-year-old royal has any intention of backing down, despite his critics suggesting his actions were wrong.
It’s about democracy
Far from accidentally wandering into a fight over the freedom of the press, the Duke has consciously thrown himself into the ring.
His powerful statement last week opened with the line: “As a couple, we believe in media freedom and objective, truthful reporting. We regard it as a cornerstone of democracy and in the current state of the world – on every level – we have never needed responsible media more.”
His unfiltered choice of language illustrates that his actions aren’t just personal for the couple. The way they see it, it’s about public service and assuring fair treatment for all those who find themselves featured in the press, not just themselves.
It’s about Diana
It’s no secret that Harry blames the media for his mother’s death, specifically the paparazzi who pursued her on that fateful night in 1997.
Twenty years on, he told a documentary team: “Those people that caused the accident, instead of helping, they were taking photographs in the back seat and then those photographs made their way back to news desks.”
His mother’s experience has ignited a need to protect his family and to prevent what he fears could be history repeating itself.
Harry did it when he first started seeing Meghan, issuing what was at the time a rare warning to the press about harassing her.
And in the years since, he has continued to fight for his family’s privacy, going so far as to take legal action when photographers used a helicopter to take photos showing the inside of their home in the Cotswolds earlier this year. For that, the Sussexes received an apology and “substantial damages” from the picture agency involved.
In last week’s jaw-dropping statement, the Duke said pointedly: “I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces.”
So while it may seem to some as brash or ill-advised, Harry is refusing to stand by as his wife is “commoditised” in the way his mother was.
It’s about his right to privacy
“He’s calling time,” commentator Bonnie Greer told CNN. “He’s blowing the whistle and he’s saying: If you intrude on our lives, we’re coming for you. We may lose, but we’re going to come for you.”
Both Harry and his brother William have spoken of their right to a private life, despite their public positions over the years. In particular they feel a duty to protect their families, having been brought up with so much intrusion in the shadows of Diana’s superstardom.
Before Harry met Meghan, during a solo tour of the Caribbean in 2012, he questioned whether he would ever find someone to marry: “I’m not so much searching for someone to fulfill the role, but obviously, you know, finding someone that would be willing to take it on.”
His worst fear materialized in what he sees as the negative press coverage about his wife in recent months, though tabloid insiders have told CNN that he overlooks the positive coverage.
Certainly, last week’s announcement overshadowed the couple’s final engagements of their 10-day tour in southern Africa. Instead of continuing the largely positive coverage in Johannesburg, South Africa, traveling media scrambled around an entirely new news cycle that took away from the causes Harry and Meghan were there to promote.
The upshot is that, for Harry, this is about seeking justice – on behalf of both his wife and his mother – which is why he’s so driven to pursue it so publicly through the courts.