LONDON — There is nothing that gets a journalist’s blood boiling like a subject’s refusal to engage, respond — or at least politely decline — a request for comment: which means that royal watchers should brace for even more aggressive reporting on the Duke and Duchess of Sussex by the British tabloids The Daily Mail, Mirror, The Sun and Express.
On Sunday, night the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, who are now living in self-imposed exile in California, have fired off yet another angry missive to the media outlets that annoy them, saying they will refuse to engage with them going forward.
Never mind that the British tabloids’ attention has turned — at least for the moment — to the coronavirus, one of the greatest worldwide crises since World War II, a pandemic that has already killed more than 165,000 — about 10 percent of them in the U.K. — with more than 2 million confirmed infections, and counting.
Far from tracking every cough and burp of the Sussexes and their infant son Archie, those tabloids have been calling out the commitment of frontline health workers in the U.K.; the threat of a severe economic slowdown, and the potential for millions of job losses. Speaking of the latter, the Duke and Duchess beat COVID-19 to the game, sacking 15 members of their British staff earlier this year after announcing their decision to decamp to North America.
In glaring contrast to the preachy letter from those junior members of the royal family, Prince Harry’s grandfather Prince Philip made a rare statement on Monday, thanking medical workers and researchers ahead of World Immunization Week, which runs from April 24 to 30.
In a brief statement issued on social media, he recognized the “vital and urgent work” being done by Britons to tackle the pandemic. He nodded to those in the medical and scientific professions, and at universities and research institutions, “all united in working to protect us from COVID-19.” He also thanked all key workers, such as postal, sanitation and delivery staff, “who ensure the infrastructure of our life continues.”
The tabloids clearly have other stories to pursue right now, other than Harry and Meghan, but that matters not to the young royals.
According to the e-mailed letter, published Monday in the Daily Mail online, the Duke and Duchess are now settling into “the next chapter of their lives,” and since they no longer receive any publicly funded support, they have decided to write in order “to set a new media relations policy.”
The couple said they believe that a free press is a cornerstone to any democracy — particularly in moments of crisis — and that journalism’s first obligation is to the truth.
They are instead taking issue with “an influential slice of the media, which 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.”
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex added that they 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.”
The letter goes on to say: “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.”
The royals are quick to add that “the 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 the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, good or bad. But it can’t be based on a lie.”
The couple said they are looking forward to working with journalists and media organizations all over the world “engaging with grassroots media, regional and local media, and young, and 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.”
They said they will not offer themselves up as “currency for an economy of clickbait and distortion.”
The letter is a preamble to an initial hearing in a case that Markle has brought against The Mail on Sunday back in October, which printed a private letter of hers to her father. The Mail had obtained the letter directly from Markle’s father, Thomas Markle.
The Duchess had filed a claim against Associated Newspapers over the misuse of private information, infringement of copyright and breach of the U.K.’s Data Protection Act, relating to the alleged unlawful publication of a private letter in Britain’s Mail on Sunday.
A spokesperson from the law firm Schillings, which is representing Markle, said the suit regards “the intrusive and unlawful publication of a private letter written by the Duchess of Sussex, which is part of a campaign by this media group to publish false and deliberately derogatory stories about her, as well as her husband.”
Last year, the couple took legal action against a number of British newspapers, with Prince Harry admonishing the press for its coverage of him and his wife.
In one particular rant, he argued that there was “a human cost to this relentless propaganda, specifically when it is knowingly false and malicious. In today’s digital age, press fabrications are repurposed as truth across the globe.”
The Daily Mail published the letter in full, and reported on it, but has not commented on it. Spokespeople for The Mail and The Sun did not return requests for comment at press time, while The Mirror and Express newspapers declined to comment.