Meghan Markle made a mistake – that’s all

The Duchess of Sussex was right to apologise to the court for denying collaborating with the authors of ‘Finding Freedom’ – but this not the ‘gotcha’ moment some would wish

Shola Mos-Shogbamimu
Friday 12 November 2021 13:39
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Elements of the British media, in their campaign to discredit Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, think they have a “gotcha” moment. They have nothing of the sort.

The question in the latest faux outrage about Meghan is not whether she loses credibility for not informing the High Court that her former comms secretary, Jason Knauf, provided some information for the unauthorised biography, Finding Freedom, to authors Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand, with her knowledge. No, the only question is whether this would have made a difference to the outcome of the privacy claim she won against Associated Newspapers Limited, publisher of the Mail on Sunday. The fact is it should make zero difference. Here’s why.

This is a fight to win in the court of public opinion, so let’s apply a common-sense analysis to what is really a straightforward issue here. Associated Newspapers Ltd reproduced parts of a private letter Meghan sent to her father, Thomas Markle, in August 2018, the disclosures of which the English courts, in February 2021, found to be “manifestly excessive and hence unlawful”, and further stated that there would be “no prospect that a different judgment would be reached after a trial”.

Meghan’s successful privacy claim against Associated Newspapers Ltd was not predicated on the collaboration, if any, with the authors of Finding Freedom but whether or not Associated Newspapers Ltd had breached her right to privacy by publishing parts of her letter to her father. The Court’s ruling that publishing her private letter was “excessive” and “unlawful” is the centrepiece of her win. So this disclosure about Finding Freedom is not critical, I believe.

Usually, information pertinent to a lawsuit trial is shared at the disclosure stage of a litigation proceeding, giving both sides the opportunity to confirm or deny. This case never got to trial because it won on its merits. So all of the information, including Jason Knauf briefing the authors of Finding Freedom with Meghan’s knowledge, would have eventually been revealed in the litigation process. There is no evidence that Meghan tried to hide this.

But because she and Prince Harry previously denied collaborating with the Finding Freedom authors, it is misleading to suggest there hadn’t been. She was right to apologise to the court. However, she made it clear in her witness statement that, though she was aware of a meeting Jason Knauf had scheduled with the Finding Freedom authors, the extent of the information he shared is unknown to her.

Harry and Meghan: A timeline

To those asserting Meghan “knew” her letter to her father could be leaked, this is nonsense. Firstly, anyone in the public eye would have a genuine fear that private communications could be leaked. Secondly, her fear of a leak and proceeding to write the letter does not waive her right to privacy. And thirdly, Associated Newspapers Ltd cannot use this as a defence because it gives them no right to breach her right to privacy. Even though her father, Thomas Markle, had already proved to be untrustworthy with his interactions with the press, writing him the letter does not constitute Meghan’s consent that it should be shared for public consumption.

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You can’t spin fiction into facts despite what some seem to be trying to do with this apology. Given the final conclusion of the Court’s ruling in favour of Meghan, surely Associated Newspapers Ltd don’t think they stand a chance at overturning the ruling in an appeal? Yet they are determined to do so I think because they want the circus of a trial for one reason: to attempt to damage Meghan Markle’s reputation.

A trial would give parts of the media the means to drag her name through the mud in the hope that something would stick, to sell more newspapers. They want, it seems, to profit off the person whose reputation they are aiming to destroy. Was Associated Newspapers Ltd aware they could be sued for breaching Meghan’s right to privacy when they chose to publish her letter? Yes. Their legal team would surely have given them a risk analysis. But it seems that Associated Newspapers Ltd deemed the opportunity to destroy Meghan’s reputation worth the risk in the name of sensation and profits. Even so, they got sued and lost the lawsuit.

Instead of Associated Newspapers Ltd moving on, they are digging in their heels for a trial it seems they are sure to lose. Parts of the British media are hungry to try and destroy Meghan, but they could well destroy themselves in the process.

Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu is a political and women’s rights activist. Her book ‘This is Why I Resist’ is out now

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