THE British monarchy chalked up an unexpected triumph against the U.K.’s tabloid press this month. Ironically, it took an outsider to do it, one who’s quit the royal family in high dudgeon over its controlling ways and upped sticks to Los Angeles.
Whether justice was truly served in the case of the Duchess of Sussex versus Fleet Street remains open to question. Libel and privacy trials are always a lottery in England — and their implications reach far beyond the wounded pride of newspaper editors because they reestablish the dividing lines between privacy and the freedom to report on the powerful.
Meghan Markle, who is married to Prince Harry, is jubilant nonetheless about her High Court success against the Mail On Sunday, a mid-market newspaper, over the publication of a private handwritten letter to her estranged father. She claimed a victory over press prurience.
But this wasn’t a story of hacks snooping on a famous figure: It was her father, Thomas Markle, who gave the letter to the paper. The Duchess said that publication infringed on her privacy, while the newspaper argued that her father was entitled to release the letter, which it claimed showed signs of being written with a view to a wider audience.
By handing down a “summary judgment” in her favor, London Judge Mark Warby spared Markle and her father from making embarrassing court appearances.
The judge ruled that the newspaper had clearly breached her right to privacy and her copyright as author of the letter. Unless the Mail on Sunday appeals, it will have to pay legal costs and damages.
The judgment reflects the ongoing recalibration of privacy laws and newspaper freedoms in Britain. But in a broader sense it was a victory for the U.S. celebrity system, which ruthlessly controls media coverage. Prince Harry, who blames the press for the death of his mother, Princess Diana, has cheered his wife on throughout — the continuation of a long rift with Britain’s rough-and-tumble tabloids.
The Duchess prefers to talk to the media on her own terms, signing deals with Netflix Inc.