7th Week Newsletter: The Media’s Monopoly

For this week's newsletter, Pippa writes about how the media covers the private lives of public figures, and when reporting can go too far.

It is now something of a commonplace that the front pages of British newspapers are spattered with not just the faces of celebrities but also revelations about their lives. Nothing, it seems, is beyond the pale; adultery, rivalries, hostilities, ambitions all make the headlines. In fact, the more intimate, the better. Take, as we so often do, Prince Harry as the example. The ongoing court case between the once ‘playboy prince’, as he was dubbed in the tabloids of the early noughties, and the publisher of the Daily Mirror stages the conflict between the personal and the publicly disclosed.

A quick skim of Spare (2023) suggests that the confessional is Harry’s primary mode. Famously, there is no shortage of intimate details. In some ways, this fuels the public’s sense of entitlement. Royalty promises no immunity from both the trite and tragic complications of life. At times, it even amplifies the effects, played out in front of a public’s almost predatory interest. There is, of course, a massive difference between the self-disclosed and the information (potentially unlawfully) seized by the press, and then relayed in stories often inflected with sexist, racist undertones.

Prince Harry alleges that Mirror Group Newspapers used ‘unlawful methods’ to access information. A click on the phone, an intercepted voicemail point to phone hacking that allegedly stretched back to the Prince’s time at Eton. In his witness statement for the case, Harry recounted feeling a creeping paranoia, a constant sense of surveillance. Mirror Group Newspapers has, in the past, admitted to phone hacking but denies that it took place on these occasions.

The atmosphere at the High Court this week, the BBC’s Sean Coughlan reports, is a ‘mixture of solemn legal process and the circus being town’. The whole case is stranded somewhere between seriousness and sensationalism. Crucially, this is not just rehashing more of Prince Harry’s deeply personal problems with the press. The proceedings will form a test case; it will allow the judge to determine the level of damage that, in other cases, Mirror Group Newspapers might pay.

Prince Harry is not the first, nor the last, celebrity to suffer at the hands of the media. The list is long (In 2011, Hugh Grant penned a piece for the New Statesman to describe his own experience of phone hacking). It raises questions not just about the media’s monopoly over information but how they acquire it, and the very real, potentially devastating effects of these methods. Where is the line between the personal and the public. If we read, even revel, in the sensationalist details the media uncovers, are we complicit and how can we ensure accountability?

Pippa Conlon,
Marketing Team

Poll Results:
Our poll this week was on the question of: “Is the media too invasive?”
The results are: 

YES – 80%
NO – 20%

Recommended Reading
New Statesman: ‘The bugger, bugged’
BBC: live reporting on the Prince Harry case