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Prince Harry and Meghan’s Plan to Change Their Media Coverage Has Already Hit a Major Snag

Paparazzi photos taken in Vancouver reportedly have the Sussexes furious—but now that they’re no longer senior royals, they may not be able to do anything about it.

JANUARY 21, 2020

With a smile on her face and baby Archie cozily tucked up in a carrier, Meghan Markle couldn’t have looked happier as she enjoyed a hike through a forest on Vancouver Island. But while the duchess was all smiles, the couple are privately furious at what they consider to be a gross invasion of their privacy.

Meghan and Prince Harry are so angry over the publication of the picture which appeared on the front page of a British newspaper and on news websites around the world, that they have instructed their U.K.-based legal team to issue a warning over the long-lens pictures, which were taken by a photographer who was hiding in the bushes, according to a letter from the couple’s lawyers sent to British news outlets. Video footage of the duchess walking with her baby son has also been published on the internet.

In a sign of what could be in store for them as they embark on a new life in Canada, the couple have found themselves under siege by photographers. In addition to photo agencies, some newspaper and magazine editors have sent photographers to Vancouver Island where the couple are currently staying.

The Sussexes are said to be concerned that the photographers are using long-lens cameras to get shots of the inside of their house. “It’s disappointing that they have been photographed and that they are essentially under siege in their own home, but I think it’s to be expected,” veteran royal reporter Ian Pelham Turner told Vanity Fair. “There is a huge interest in the couple right now.”

The Sun newspaper splashed on the photograph of Meghan walking with Archie, the most prominent way a British newspaper has used a paparazzi picture of the couple’s son. Up until now the British media have been respectful of the family’s private time, with newspaper editors agreeing not to publish paparazzi pictures of Archie.

“There’s clearly a different set of rules in Canada, and I think the couple are going to find themselves having a lot less control,” Pelham Turner added. “This may be one of the downsides of any move to Canada or America. Three years ago I supported Prince William when there were lots of paparazzi pictures of the Cambridge children in Kensington Park Gardens and there was a campaign to stop this. To some degree it goes with the territory, but the agreement between Britain’s national newspaper editors and the Palace that the papers wouldn’t use paparazzi pictures meant there was no demand for them in the U.K. In the U.S. publications like the National Enquirer however operate very differently. The Sun’s decision to print the picture feels like another slap in the face for Meghan.”

In a speech given Sunday night at an event for his charity Sentebale, Prince Harry said that he was leaving the U.K. because they had no other option, describing media as “a powerful force.” He also said he hoped for a “more peaceful life” but royal experts have warned that it might not be as quiet as the couple hope.

“My goal posts haven’t changed, and I wouldn’t be jumping out of bushes, but some will argue that now Harry and Meghan aren’t working members of the royal family, they are fair game,” said Tim Rooke of picture agency Rex. “The major papers all have photographers out in Vancouver and they’re not there on holiday. Then you have Splash and all the other U.S. agencies so it’s not surprising that they’ve been pictured. But what can the Palace do about it now? It’s very difficult.”

Before Meghan and Harry announced their move to Canada they had mapped out a new way of engaging with the media. The ambitious media plan detailed on their new website involved making some major changes to the way news about them is reported. Currently they feel they are misrepresented in the British press, whom Harry blames the media for peddling “relentless propaganda” about the couple and vilifying Meghan.

Among the many changes they announced was the decision to “No longer participate in the royal rota system.” That decision is less relevant now that they have left the U.K., but is nonetheless telling about how they want to be portrayed in the media from now on.

According to their new website they plan to engage with grassroots media organizations and young, up-and-coming journalists rather than established royal correspondents. “Their sincere hope is that this change in media policy will enhance access and give the Duke and Duchess the ability to share information more freely with members of the public,” explains the site.

Harry is expected to return to the U.K. for several long-standing commitments before the new changes come into effect this spring, and Palace aides say that up until that point the rota will cover these engagements as usual. For decades every member of the royal family including the queen has accommodated the royal rota, a select group of royal correspondents invited to cover royal engagements for the British national press and broadcasters.

According to the Sun’s royal reporter Emily Andrews, “Like all royals Harry and Meghan have had praise and criticism in different measure, but a major benefit of the rota is to give positive promotion to the charities and causes the royals are working with. I was told by a very senior Palace source that the [royal family] are very grateful for the coverage from the British tabloids because of the causes and charities they promote.”

Andrews continued, “I think not working with the rota will result in less coverage for Harry and Meghan which might be their reason for doing it. They’ve made it clear they only want good news and what this [new move] means is they get to control the narrative. I think we’ll see a lot more spin and positive PR spin for them, but I think the public will lose out. The role of a journalist is to report without fear or favor. You say what you see and that’s what we do. If the Sussexes are controlling all the coverage you’ll only get the sanitized PR version. It will be fascinating to see how it pans out.”

Royal reporter Richard Palmer sees Harry and Meghan’s move as part of a larger trend. “I think Harry and Meghan’s attempt to cut out the mainstream media is part of a wider move by public figures to cut out the middleman and exert more control over their image,” says Palmer. “They are doing the same as our main political parties which have tried to restrict press access to those titles that rarely criticize them.

I see them in the same mold as Donald Trump, who tried to cut out CNN and the New York Times and only deal with media that rarely challenged or scrutinized him. In fact the main British newspapers have generally written upbeat stories about them and promoted their causes. The royal rota system works reasonably well and so does the system of having specialist royal correspondents who know the backstory and can find a way of highlighting the cause while engaging readers who are more interested in what the royals are wearing or how they all get on with each other. They are going to lose that if they exclude the main British papers and broadcasters in favor of more specialist or benign media outfits. For the mainstream media there will be no incentive to even write about them.”

Which might, of course, be the Sussexes aim. To say that they aren’t fans of the British media is putting it lightly. Harry has always had a fractious relationship with the press (who he blames for his mother’s death) while Meghan is said to feel the tabloids were out to destroy her from the beginning. She is currently taking action against the Mail on Sunday for publishing excerpts of a private letter to her father while Harry is separately suing two other tabloids.

If there are more paparazzi pictures, there could well be more lawsuits to follow.

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