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British media’s ‘invisible contract’ with royal family that Meghan disrupted

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British media’s ‘invisible contract’ with royal family that Meghan disrupted


The revelations from the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s interview with Oprah Winfrey have put the British monarchy’s relationship with the media into question.

Prince Harry talked of a “invisible contract” between the Royal Family and reporters, describing a world in which planned public exposure is provided, as well as a degree of scrutiny that has historically been tolerated, in exchange for privacy beyond palace gates.

“Well, to simplify it, it’s a case of if you, as a family member, are willing to wine, dine, and give full access to these reporters, then you will get better press. I think everybody needs to have some compassion in that situation. There is a level of control by fear that has existed for generations,” he revealed.

“Who’s controlling whom?” Oprah asked. “It’s the institution, from our point of view—the public.”

“The institution survives based on that perception,” Harry explained.

“The relationship is symbiotic: one lives or thrives because the other exists,” Oprah explained.


In this interpretation, the royals do not like or consider their media obligations as an obligation, but rather believe the only way to survive the press is to make a deal with it.

“There’s a reason that these tabloids have holiday parties at the palace,” Meghan said. “They’re hosted by the palace, the tabloids are. You know, there is a construct that’s at play there.”

Tabloids dominate British public life, affecting public opinion and giving their proprietors incredible power.

“When the tabloids decide your time has come, you’re toast,” said James O’Brien, a talk radio broadcaster who relishes getting under the skin of the British elite.

“How powerful are the British tabloid newspapers?” wondered correspondent Holly Williams.

“Their power is almost absolute,” O’Brien said. “They put up prime ministers at the pinnacle of power. And they run the mother of all popularity contests.”

“Are they kingmakers politically?”

“Wow, without a doubt.”

Meanwhile, the prince stated that he “feared history repeating itself” referring to his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, who died in a vehicle accident in Paris while being pursued by the press.

So, how did this contract function in the first place, and is it now broken?

Marcus Ryder, a visiting professor in media diversity at Birmingham City University, argued that the arrival of a mixed-race woman in the family fatally disrupted that cosy – if compromised – relationship in a week when claims of media racism became a central part of the debate over Harry and Meghan’s treatment.

“The whole point of a culture like this is that it survives on the basis of unwritten rules,” he said. “And so when somebody comes into that culture from outside, it forces you to address those rules, or even make them explicit, and in doing so reexamine them. It’s often the person from the margins who might make us reassess something like this.”

All royals are subjected to tabloid criticism and, at times, harassment. Following Princess Diana’s death, even the Queen was accused of not displaying enough compassion. However, there was an apparent racial undertone to the Duchess of Sussex’s reportage.

“I do accept that the institution would have been foreign to her,” said Kelvin MacKenzie, former editor of The Sun, one of Britain’s best-selling tabloids. He said Meghan’s unpopularity was due to her actions rather than her ethnicity. For one thing, he told Williams, the royals are meant to be apolitical, and she was far too vehement.

“I do think we have now reached a point where actually people don’t want to read good news about Meghan,” he remarked.

“So, she’s so unpopular that the tabloid media know that people just want to hear negative things about her?” Williams wondered.

“They just want bad news.”

“And so, they give it to the public?”

“Give it to them, yeah.”

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