Brian Cathcart, Professor of Journalism at Kingston University, on why Britain’s right-wing press will be intent on destroying the marriage of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex now more than ever.
The playground bullies of the national press are doing their worst.
The editorial columns fulminate about Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex’s, allegedly poor judgement and are expressing their outrage on Her Majesty the Queen’s behalf that (again, allegedly) she was taken by surprise at the news that he and the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, are to step down as senior royals.
The opinion writers paint the picture of a weak prince led astray by a difficult American wife. The reporters track down anybody remotely quotable and duly quote them, echoing the editorials and opinion columns. The designers of front pages dust off their most unflattering pictures of the couple and contrive new ways to demean them in headlines.
Australia may be burning. Iran may be about to commit some appalling act of revenge on the US. Our own Government may be busy stripping children of their rights. But the big thing right now must be Harry and Meghan, who have announced that they are going to pick up their celebrity ball and try to find a different playground where they might have a chance of a fair game.
This story is important – don’t get me wrong and I’m coming to that – it’s just bizarre that, in January 2020, anybody considers it the biggest story around.
Let’s be clear, nobody should be worried for the Sussexes. They have been treated appallingly but, let’s face it, they will never need a food bank or become climate change refugees. Yet their story is important because this happens to be the latest frontline in the battle by the corporate press to dominate our lives, and the prince and his wife represent a lot of things they hate.
They are attractive and popular and they choose to put these things to use by drawing attention to such problems as young people’s mental health, the empowerment of women, climate change and poverty in parts of Africa. As a couple they are also, because of who they are, symbolic of the idea of racial tolerance.
For these reasons and others the Daily Mail, the Sun, The Times, the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Express have vilified them, using all their armoury of fabrication, distortion, omission, smear and innuendo. They either want to bring the couple to heel, forcing them to behave as they believe a royal couple should, or to destroy the marriage, which they may well be capable of doing.
Either way, the result would be to curb royal involvement in, and thus publicity about, issues that are not consistent with the corporate press agenda, which is consistently intolerant, mean-spirited and self-interested. So, far-fetched as it may seem, I believe that we all have an interest in the battle of Harry and Meghan because, in one way or another, we are on that frontline with them. If they lose, the frontline moves back a little and we are that much worse off.
Will they lose? Bear in mind that they are taking on a corporate press that believes it won the General Election and is delivering Brexit, that it is winning a war against tolerance and empathy, and that it now really runs the country and can do as it wishes.
It is a daunting opponent. On the other hand, the tide of modernity is surely with the royal couple in terms of modern communications and the attitudes of the young. The heritage press companies have great power on social media, but how far does their message engage the under-30s, or even the under-40s?
Here we enter unknown territory, and it is striking that the Sussexes are making the journey with their eyes open. Their new website, sussexroyal.com, carries a series of statements about their future media policy that amount to a declaration that they propose to turn their back on the heritage press. Instead, to quote, they plan to:
- Engage with grassroots media organisations and young, up-and-coming journalists;
- Invite specialist media to specific events/engagements to give greater access to their cause-driven activities, widening the spectrum of news coverage;
- Provide access to credible media outlets focused on objective news reporting to cover key moments and events;
- Continue to share information directly to the wider public via their official communications channels.
It’s a plan. Indeed, given the record of the press and the couple’s determination not to be dictated to by them, it may be the only plan available. Will it work? Will it survive the tidal wave of dishonesty now unleashed by the Daily Mail, The Times and the others?
The answer is that it needs time, and whether it gets that time depends on how strong the couple’s marriage is, because, make no mistake, the corporate press is now sadly straining every muscle it has to destroy it.