Meghan and Harry Take Stonewalling UK Tabloids to a New Level

Harry and Meghan in South Africa, October 2019. (Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

It speaks volumes about the Hulk-level rage of Harry and Meghan Markle that, even in the middle of one of the biggest health crises in living memory, they just can't leave their fight with the British tabloids alone.

On Sunday evening, the ex-royal highnesses put four major U.K. tabloids on notice. The editors of The Daily Mail, Sun, Daily Mirror and Daily Express all received letters that said in part:

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex will not be engaging with your outlet. There will be no corroboration and zero engagement. This is also a policy being instated for their communications team, in order to protect that team from the side of the industry that readers never see.

Though the move makes very little practical sense (aren't more falsehoods likely to be published if the publications can't reach the couple for comment?) it remains refreshing to behold yet another example of the couple's pushback against the outlets that have actively sought to torment Meghan Markle.

The trajectory of Harry and Meghan's recent lives has been almost entirely dictated by their ongoing struggles with the British press. In addition to quitting their roles as senior royals, both are currently embroiled in official battles with the U.K. tabloids. Harry's legal proceedings against the owners of the Sun and Mirror, over alleged incidents of phone hacking, are ongoing. The couple’s lawsuit against the Daily Mail, over the publishing of a private letter from Markle to her father, has a hearing this Friday.

Since the 1930s, the royal family’s unofficial motto has been “Never complain, never explain.” It was a position initially adopted by Harry's great-grandmother—known affectionately in the U.K. as “the Queen Mum”—after her husband, King George, found himself unexpectedly on the throne. (His brother Edward VIII abdicated in order to marry Wallis Simpson, an American divorcée. Ahem. Sound familiar?) It is remarkable, then, just how much Harry and Meghan have taken to both complaining and explaining.

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A fight like this is probably overdue though. As KQED Arts reported in February after the suicide of popular British TV presenter Caroline Flack, the daily tabloids wield an enormous degree of power in the U.K.—and they don't always behave responsibly with it. And though questions around press conduct have swirled in Britain since the death of Princess Diana in 1997, no royal entity has ever fought the press like Harry and Meghan are currently doing.

Given their ongoing legal battles, and the fact that Harry and Meghan don't have a history of collaborating with those four newspapers anyway, the letters sent out over the weekend feel symbolic. Harry and Meghan aren't just doubling down on their position: they're setting a precedent for other British public figures to throw down similar gauntlets. If Harry and Meghan are successful in their legal battles, the rules of press engagement in the U.K. may never be the same again.

Harry and Meghan's letter to the newspapers can be read in full below:

As The Duke and Duchess of Sussex now settle into the next chapter of their lives and no longer receive any publicly funded support, we are writing to set a new media relations policy, specifically as it pertains to your organization.

Like you, The Duke and Duchess of Sussex believe that a free press is a cornerstone to any democracy—particularly in moments of crisis. At its best, this free press shines light on dark places, telling stories that would otherwise go untold, standing up for what's right, challenging power, and holding those who abuse the system to account.

It has been said that journalism's first obligation is to the truth. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex agree wholeheartedly.

It is gravely concerning that an influential slice of the media, over many years, has sought to insulate themselves from taking accountability for what they say or print—even when they know it to be distorted, false, or invasive beyond reason. When power is enjoyed without responsibility, the trust we all place in this much-needed industry is degraded.

There is a real human cost to this way of doing business and it affects every corner of society.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have watched people they know—as well as complete strangers—have their lives completely pulled apart for no good reason, other than the fact that salacious gossip boosts advertising revenue.

With that said, please note that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex will not be engaging with your outlet. There will be no corroboration and zero engagement. This is also a policy being instated for their communications team, in order to protect that team from the side of the industry that readers never see.

This policy is not about avoiding criticism. It's not about shutting down public conversation or censoring accurate reporting. Media have every right to report on and indeed have an opinion on The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, good or bad. But it can't be based on a lie.

They also want to be very clear: this is not in any way a blanket policy for all media.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are looking forward to working with journalists and media organizations all over the world, engaging with grassroots media, regional and local media, and young, up-and-coming journalists, to spotlight issues and causes that so desperately need acknowledging. And they look forward to doing whatever they can to help further opportunities for more diverse and underrepresented voices, who are needed now more than ever.

What they won't do is offer themselves up as currency for an economy of click bait and distortion.

We are encouraged that this new approach will be heard and respected.