Cynthia Reyes is a former journalist, producer-director and executive producer with the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
On Sunday, Prince Harry delivered an emotional speech at an event for his charity, Sentebale, explaining his reasons for leaving the Royal Family and Britain.
“The decision that I have made for my wife and I to step back is not one I made lightly," he said. "There really was no other option.”
There is plenty of blame to go around.
You could blame the Sussexes for outshining Harry’s brother, Prince William, and other senior royals.
Blame them for being too “progressive” in their views, which seems to have been too much change too fast for a family devoted to tradition.
But most of the blame can be laid at the feet of the British press.
As British MP Wes Streeting wrote on Twitter: “The treatment of Meghan at the hands of sections of the media hasn’t just been ‘negative’ or ‘bad’ – it has been downright racist. That’s what should bring shame on our country, not so-called ‘Megxit.’”
Britain’s tabloid newspapers, in print and online, are owned by rich white men whose newspapers reflect their far-right political views. They’ve not taken kindly to Meghan. From the day the story broke about her relationship with Britain’s favourite prince, Meghan became a target. Her race, her feminism, her American-ness, her divorcee status and her humble roots – all have been used against her.
According to an analysis published by The Guardian, the Duchess of Sussex has received significantly more negative coverage than her sister-in-law, William’s wife, the Duchess of Cambridge, and garners “twice as many negative headlines as positive ones.”
Meghan has been chastised and demeaned for doing the very things other royals, including her sister-in-law and even the Queen are praised for. Wearing a one-shoulder dress. Eating avocados. Wearing dark nail polish. Not posing for pictures hours after childbirth.
The fact is, royals sell. The more salacious the story, the better. Facts don’t matter. Sources, if they exist, remain in the shadows. And British papers have learned that you can say almost anything about the royals, claiming “palace sources,” without rebuttal or punishment. The royals rarely comment and rarely sue, although Harry and Meghan filed lawsuits against the three largest tabloids last October.
This makes the world’s most privileged and famous family both powerful and deeply vulnerable to media attacks. Their wealth and attempts to maintain their privacy make them objects of an almost insatiable curiosity. Harry knows this all too well: This curiosity was ultimately what precipitated his mother Diana, Princess of Wales’s 1997 death, after her car was chased by photographers in a Paris tunnel.
One only has to read a week’s worth of any British tabloid’s royal coverage to realize that attacking the Royal Family and other famous people is a key plank in its business model. If bad new sells, salacious news about famous people is a gold mine.
Harry and Meghan provide the richest vein.
As Alan Rusbridger, who chairs the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, wrote in The Guardian Jan. 19: “The metrics are irresistible: this couple sell newspapers and attract eyeballs by the billion. There is little hope that editors are going to dial down their coverage.”
It is not as if Harry and Meghan are trying to censor coverage of their family; indeed, the strongest statement in favour of ethical journalism and a strong free press came not from the newspapers, but from Prince Harry himself last October.
“As a couple, we believe in media freedom and objective, truthful reporting. We regard it as a cornerstone of democracy and in the current state of the world – on every level – we have never needed responsible media more.
Unfortunately, my wife has become one of the latest victims of a British tabloid press that wages campaigns against individuals with no thought to the consequences – a ruthless campaign that has escalated over the past year, throughout her pregnancy and while raising our newborn son.”
That statement obviously had little effect, and now the Duke and Duchess are leaving the United Kingdom.
Will that be enough? Probably not. There’s another reason the tabloids are likely to continue their abusive relationship with the royals: they have big bills to pay.
The tabloids have paid hundreds of millions to settle cases involving illegal phone-hacking – an international scandal in its own right – and costs could rise to £1-billion.
That money has to come from somewhere. Where better than even more sensational stories about the most popular couple on Earth?
Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.