Naked prince pics ban reveals chastened British press

Thu Aug 23, 2012 9:31am EDT
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By Michael Holden

LONDON (Reuters) - Almost exactly 20 years ago, Sarah Ferguson, then wife of Britain's Prince Andrew, was pictured topless on the front page of a British newspaper, having her toes sucked by a wealthy U.S. businessman by the pool of a French villa.

Ignoring any concerns about privacy, the Daily Mirror ran 18 paparazzi long-range photos of the Duchess of York, who was estranged from but still married to Queen Elizabeth's second son, and other papers eagerly followed up with similar snaps.

Fast forward to the present day, and pictures of the queen's grandson Prince Harry cavorting naked with a nude young woman appeared on a U.S. gossip website and subsequently across the world, with one notable exception - Britain.

Reeling from a judge-led inquiry into press ethics which has publicly revealed the "dark arts" of once-feared British tabloids, not one newspaper dared risk upsetting the authorities by printing the "private" photos of Harry.

Former editors and media commentators said the dissection of newspapers' unsavory tactics, and evidence from those who said their lives had been ruined by them to Judge Brian Leveson and his team of lawyers, had effectively neutered the British press.

Neil Wallis, a former deputy editor of Rupert Murdoch's News of the World Sunday tabloid, said he would have run the pictures of the third-in-line to the British throne before the inquiry, but not now.

"The problem is, in this post-Leveson era where newspapers are simply terrified of their own shadow, they daren't do things that most of the country, if they saw it in the paper, would think 'well that's a bit of a laugh,'" he told BBC TV.

His old tabloid, Britain's top-selling Sunday paper which thrived on stories of scandal and gossip about the royals, was closed last summer by Murdoch amid public anger that its journalists had hacked into the voicemails of people from celebrities to victims of crime.   Continued...

Britain's Prince Harry watches the women's beach volleyball bronze medal match between Brazil and China at Horse Guards Parade during the London 2012 Olympic Games August 8, 2012. REUTERS/Neil Hall