This is not about Harry’s Bum – Brian Cathcart

24 08 2012

So there you have it. We spend a whole year discussing press ethics and then, for the sake of a peek at Prince Harry’s bum, half the world seems ready to say that the editor of the Sun can make up his own ethics.

No, this is not about the freedom of the press. Nor is it about print versus internet. And it is not about the public’s ‘right’ to see pictures of Harry’s bum either. It is about mob rule and the right of large newspaper corporations to do whatever they like. 

It is about mob rule because the Sun is claiming that it has the right to do something that is wrong on the grounds that other people (on the internet) are doing something wrong. That is what looters said after last summer’s riots – ‘I thought it was OK to steal stuff because everybody else was stealing.’ As the Sun itself pointed out last summer, that is no excuse for wrongdoing.

And it is about large newspaper corporations doing what they like because it shows that the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), the industry’s tailor-made self-regulator, has no sway whatsoever over the industry. As was demonstrated many times at the Leveson Inquiry, it is a pretend regulator and no more.

The PCC Code says it is unacceptable to photograph people in private places without their consent. It is obvious that to publish such photographs is equally unacceptable, if not more so. This was pointed out to the Sun and other papers, and yet the Sun has published. What will be the consequence of this breach of the code? There will be none, because the PCC is toothless.

The Sun is saying here that it is above the law, above regulation, above ethics. It is saying that it can do whatever it likes. And for the sake of Harry’s bum, a lot of people seem to be prepared to accept this.

Implicit in much of the discussion is that Prince Harry has a diminished right to privacy because he is royal, and that ordinary people are not affected by the Sun’s actions. This is untrue and misleading. The entire experience of the Leveson Inquiry shows us that newspapers don’t discriminate: they will screw you and me just as readily as they will screw the prince.

Most phone hacking victims were not famous. They were just people who crossed the path of Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World. Most of the targets of the criminal investigator Steve Whittamore, who breached privacy on an industrial scale for newspapers, were ordinary people too. The Dowlers are ordinary. The McCanns are ordinary. The victims of Soham and Dunblane were ordinary.

The owners and editors of the big national papers want the freedom to intrude on the lives of such people, of anybody they choose, in whatever way they like, and they are exploiting these pictures to ensure they get it. This they are dressing up as an issue of freedom of the press.

What is at stake is not Harry’s bum. What is at stake, now and over the months to come, is whether we want another 20 years or unrestrained press abuses against innocent people or whether we are ready to restrain the small number of wealthy media corporations that are so ready to trample on the rights of princes and paupers alike.

Brian Cathcart teaches journalism at Kingston University London and is a founder of Hacked Off. He tweets at @BrianCathcart



10 responses

24 08 2012
Felix Labinjo

The Sun is deluding itself if it thinks nobody can see its retaliatory two finger sign disguised as press freedom. Eventually, it will overplay its hand through sheer conceit and arrogance. Afterall, those whom the gods would destroy…….

24 08 2012
McDermott, Jennifer

No its not, despite Kelvin McKenzie and other ex and current tablod editors saying it is. Even the Mail’s ” We are shocked” story was just a thinly disguised attempt to show off the sleeze on a private occasion with no public interest and only their own self interest to gain circulation. Lord Justice Leveson we need you to be really tough and not to swallow Lord Hunt and the revamped PCC line.

24 08 2012
Simon Carne

I don’t think your analogy with last summer’s riot works. Everyone who joins in a riot “because everyone else was doing it” adds to the violence, the damage and the difficulty in bringing matters back under control. It is right that they be punished.

But is repeating a secret that is no longer a secret (or re-publishing a photo that is electronically accessible to anyone who wants to see it) adding to the harm? If it is, weren’t most (all?) of the other news media (almost) equally to blame for directing the British public to the hollywood site which first exposed the pictures?

I think this is a lot more subtle than mere mob rule. I won’t hog the space on your website with a long comment, but more on this (for those who want to follow up) at

24 08 2012
Simon Carne

Apologies for the typo in the link above – should be

24 08 2012
olly connelly

“This is not about Harry’s Bum”

You’re right. It’s about censorship. This piece seems to embrace the possibilities of that, the most dangerous ramification being the eventual corporate control of the web which, as it stands, is the singlemost important instrument of democracy so far known to man.

Frankly, put into perspective, some celeb here or there is nigh on irrelevant.

24 08 2012
Felix Labinjo

What Prince Harry and his friends chose to do in the privacy of their hotel suite was their affair. The Sun jumped on the bandwagon of miscreants capitalising on this despicable invasion of the Prince’s privacy because everyone else was doing it. How is this any different from those handling stolen goods during last summer’s riots?

The Sun’s public interest justification rings hollow; it could have run the story without publishing the photos. Clearly, it has lost the argument on this one.

24 08 2012

Thank you Brian. I agree with every word. I hope the Harry bashers are as worried about what their 12/13 year olds are doing. Then of course, how did a camera get in that room?

29 08 2012
Law and Media Mid-Summer Round Up – 29 August 2012 « Inforrm's Blog

[…] on free speech but that view was not shared by all – for example, Professor Brian Cathcart, writing on Inforrm, and the editor of the Independent, Chris Blackhurst, interviewed on the Radio 4 Today Programme. […]

16 09 2012
Inforrm: End of the Summer Break « Inforrm's Blog

[…] the Prince: the Sun fails the responsibility test“.   Our other posts on the subject “This is not about Harry’s bum“, “Prince Harry, Privacy and Naked Photos: what part of ‘private’ do the […]

2 01 2013
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