Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have given the British press the dressing down it so badly needed

I am not a monarchist – but I believe it is wrong that people’s lives are routinely torn to shreds in the name of journalism

Duke of Sussex ‘incredibly proud’ of British response to Covid-19

Asked who you were rooting for between the Sussexes and the British media, you couldn’t be blamed for saying “neither”; this is a moot battle between two archaic and immoral institutions. But there have been moments, from her first tentative steps into the royal limelight to her admission to a journalist that she was “not really okay”, when women of colour like myself have found ourselves defending Markle. Yesterday, when the Duke and Duchess of Sussex sent a letter to the UK’s largest tabloids ending all cooperation, was one of those times.

“No corroboration and zero engagement,” the couple phrased it, refusing to “offer themselves up as currency for an economy of click bait and distortion”. Their letter criticised the lack of accountability in tabloid reporting, and reiterated its human cost. “When power is enjoyed without responsibility, the trust we all place in this much-needed industry is degraded.”

Over the past four years, we have become well-acquainted with the racist treatment of Markle at the hands of the tabloid press, an extreme form of the scrutiny all women of colour are subject to in every domain: whether eating avocado toast made her a murderer; whether she was baring too much skin; whether her handwriting was the mark of a narcissist. Invasions of privacy became commonplace, most notably in the publication in 2018 of private letters between Markle and her estranged father Thomas. Other times, the scrutiny levelled at Markle was explicitly racialised, such as when the prime minister’s sister Rachel Johnson described Markle’s “rich and exotic DNA”, or when the Mailonline ran a story on Markle’s mother’s “gang-scarred” hometown with the headline “Harry’s girl is (almost) straight outta Compton”.

It’s funny how the label of “journalism” can cover all manner of sins. Just yesterday journalists were arguing over the need to financially support their industry – but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t remain critical of the ways that publications can make their money. We have seen how press scrutiny can damage the mental and physical wellbeing of celebrities time and again – sometimes fatally. In February, there were widespread calls for more press regulation following the death of Love Island presenter Caroline Flack, who was subject to trolling and abuse by the media in the weeks leading up to her suicide. Just days after she passed away, The Sun removed an article mocking Flack and ran fawning coverage lamenting the tragedy of her death. The same duplicity was visible in the tabloids’ reporting on Harry’s mother, Diana. This would be an embarrassing U-turn were the tabloids guided by principle; given they’re guided by revenue, it’s them functioning exactly as they were intended to.

Nonetheless, in both broadsheets and tabloids, journalists have often hidden behind the guise of “critical reporting” to further what is actually targeted abuse. In January, when Markle launched a legal claim against the Mail on Sunday, the paper argued that publishing her private letter to her father was in the public interest. Given that the paper historically prioritises sensationalist scoops over speaking truth to power, it seems unlikely that their defence was made in good faith. We should not allow publications to dress up their mistreatment of a woman of colour in the public eye as “good journalism”, or holding the monarchy to account.

This move is also a welcome rupture of an outdated industry arrangement. I’m a journalist, but couldn’t be further from being a royal reporter, so the more I have learnt about the royals’ historical relationship with the media, the more baffled I have become by their entrenched, institutional ties. In January, when the Sussexes announced their “step back” from royal duties, one aspect of that was removing themselves from the so-called “royal rota”. This 40-year-old system provides exclusive access to events information and material to the Daily Express, Daily Mail, Daily Mirror, Evening Standard, Telegraph, Times and Sun. That’s a whole lot of Murdoch – and to outsiders like myself, an arrangement made all the harder to justify by Markle’s mistreatment by many of these outlets. As the couple renege their royal duties, it seems natural they also let go of these obsolete arrangements.

I am not a monarchist – in fact I believe that the sooner the institution is abandoned, the better. At the same time, I believe it is wrong that people’s lives are routinely torn to shreds – often in ways that reproduce racism, sexism and other forms of oppression – in the name of journalism. While I patiently await the revolution, I welcome any small move against the institutionalised harassment perpetuated by the mainstream press. Harry and Meghan’s may not be a radical act, but the power of this country’s immoral media machines wanes each time a public figure refuses to play ball. And as readers, I implore you not to play, either.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in