A right royal dilemma

Ok. So this is it. The big post -Leveson test of media ethics.

In the red-top corner – the popular press.

In the blue blood corner, the Palace and a certain party prince.

And stuck in the middle are you and I – the public.

Prince Harry is in Las Vegas. This we know to be true. Papers are full today of tales of him enjoying himself. Good for him.

But grainy smartphone pictures have emerged on celeb news TMZ of someone who bears (bares?) a close resemblance to the third in line to the throne.

Every newsroom is abuzz with the question ‘Should we run them?’ And what makes it even more infuriating is that whilst their news sites aren’t covering it, Twitter (the people’s news list) has gone ape.

Tweeting with my former Sunday People colleague Jules Stenson (later Features Editor at the News of the World), his take was most papers would take the lead from the Palace. The ‘he could be open to blackmail’ public interest defence will be used.

Of course the pics could be fake. But IF they are – and it’s a big IF, the Palace will have to make a huge call here.

Post Leveson, do they really want to put the pressure on papers not to run it on the basis that it is a breach of privacy? They have a very good case. It’s in a private hotel room.

But when you’re a member of the British Royal Family, what happens in Vegas, gets tweeted around the world in under five minutes.

So IF IT IS HIM, my advice as PR director and a former tabloid journalist would be for the Palace to seize the initative by following these three steps.

1. Establish the facts. I’m sure Harry’s father has already done this but they need to get FULL disclosure. Is it him? If so, who took the pictures? And more importantly are there any worse ones out there? And will the woman in the photo talk?

2. Think long and hard whether you want to hide behind privacy. Public figures – like anyone else – are entitled to their own privacy. But if true, the Palace will get more respect if it acknowledges the existence and not fight it through the courts. So…

3. Put your hands up! IF TRUE, a short and contrite statement from Prince Harry apologising for embarrassing the Royal Family will suffice. We’ve all done things we regret but no one expects people to wear sackcloth and ashes anymore.

Britain has become more of a liberal society thanks to social media. Over the last few years, millions of people have uploaded just as embarrassing pictures to their Facebook pages (traffic cones on heads anyone?). We now see that we’re not alone in making silly mistakes.

There will be enormous sympathy for Harry. He’s a young single man who likes to party and has served his country with honour. And someone he trusted is trying to make money out of a very private moment.

Yes, if the pictures feature him, he should in future think about the consequences of his actions. But he has lived his life in the public spotlight since birth and there must be an overwhelming desire to cut loose.

But if the Palace comes clean on this, the media should respond in kind.

1. Don’t make this a privacy precedent. It isn’t. It would be a voluntary and noble decision made in remarkable circumstances. Be grateful and don’t milk it.

2. Don’t think this makes public figures fair games to paps. The media showed remarkable restraint following Diana’s death and banned using paparazzi pics of the princes. There will now be a huge price on Harry’s head. Don’t condone them by creating a domestic market by using them.

3. Don’t gloat. Cut the Palace some slack. If they have admitted it, give them the kudos for doing so. Don’t keep referring to it. Don’t keep reprinting the pictures.

We’ve seen Harry grow up in the public eye and we all know what it’s like to fall out with our parents.

So Palace,  if true,  come clean.

Media, report the story but don’t get on a high horse about it.

 And everyone else, get back to work. There’s recession on dammit!

10:45 UPDATE:

Clarence House has confimed the pictures are  Harry but  Sunday Times royal hack Kate Mansey has tweeted “the naked Prince Harry pictures are real but British newspapers have been asked not to reprint them.”

Going to be fascinating if that collective editorial position holds. Pre-Leveson, this would have collapsed by now.

Still NO sign of the pics on Mail Online or other news sites.

Only Guido has published them. Will the papers use the blog as the Trojan Horse excuse to publish them?

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