Prince Harry, post Leveson

Have you seen Prince Harry’s crown jewels!!??!! The royal family’s finest asset!

The jokes write themselves, don’t they? Feel free to add your own in the comments.

But the nude Las Vegas party adventures of the third in line to the British throne — or, more accurately, the pictures of the nude Las Vegas party adventures of the third in line to the British throne — throw up some serious questions.

No British newspaper has published the nude pictures taken inside a private hotel suite, though most published other pictures, taken outside, of the young prince (cue newspaper-speak) “cavorting” with other “revellers”, including Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte.

The Sun, bizarrely, got staff, including an intern, to pose in replica shots.

Newspapers were informed by the PCC that St James’s Palace had issued a semi-threatening legal letter from law firm Harbottle and Lewis, claiming that publication of the photographs would be in contravention of article 3 of the PCC code (which covers privacy), and that the palace “reserved its rights” should publication go ahead.

There’s been debate since about whether or not publication of the pictures would be in the public interest. On the one hand, Harry was on private time, and not in a public place, when the nude photos were taken. What has the world come to when young, healthy soldier on leave can’t get naked and play billiards without his pictures being published everywhere!

But then, Harry is, by very definition, through the weirdness of monarchy, a public figure. The pictures are certainly of interest to the public, if not in the public interest. And public knowledge of them doesn’t seem to have dented the prince’s ever-rising popularity. The general reaction has been along the lines of “of course he’s hanging out naked in a Vegas hotel suite! He’s Prince Harry and that’s what he does, the little scamp.”

Being honest, I’m not sure where I stand on this. But here’s what I find interesting. I have absolutely no doubt that in a pre-Leveson world, these pictures would have been published by the majority of newspapers. Are they now being sensible and respectful, or timid and fearful of the Lord Justice’s wrath?

What’s more, when the pictures are all over the web (the Daily Mail has helpfully produced a list of sites where you can view the royal birthday suit), how meaningful are Harbottle and Lewis’s letter, the PCC’s warning*notification, and the various editors’ decisions not to run the pictures?

One final thought: in a time when Facebook stores over 4 per cent of all photographs ever taken, does any 27-year-old actually expect privacy at a party?

Update: Jonathan Collett of the Press Complaints Commission has been in touch about the reference to “the PCC’s warning” in this post. He says:

It’s not the case that we have issued a warning. The Palace have themselves confirmed that they contacted the PCC and used our pre-publication services to pass on their concerns about the potential publication of the photographs to Editors. They used the same system that is available to members of the public, which the PCC has developed to allow people at the heart of a news story to make editors aware of their concerns before publication. The decision on whether to proceed with publication rests with Editors, who clearly will be mindful of the Editors’ Code of Practice. The PCC has not received a formal complaint about the photographs and the Commission has not made any ruling on the issue.

It certainly wasn’t my intention to suggest that the Commission itself had “issued a warning”, merely that it had warned in the “alerted” sense, that Harbottle & Lewis had sent the letter. But that could have been made clearer, and we’re happy to publish Mr Collett’s explanation.

Padraig Reidy is Index on Censorship’s news editor