With just days to go until the Duke and Duchess of Sussex release their Netflix series, newspapers are turning a documentary about how the media treated the couple into a story about how the couple are treating the media.
Monday’s release of a second trailer promoting the show has already led to suggestions of misleading editing, with several photos and clips taken out of context in the promotional video for the six-part show entitled Harry and Meghan.
“There’s a leaking but there’s also planting of stories … It’s a dirty game,” says Prince Harry in the trailer, as flashbulbs break over a variety of archive and stock images.
The Sun – one of the publications singled out in the trailer – ran the story on its front page under the headline “Sussex, lies and videotape”. While some of the changes are small – a photo of Harry surrounded by paparazzi was cropped from an old picture with his ex Chelsy Davy, rather than with Meghan – some are more unusual. Two pieces of footage showing a scrum of cameras are taken from very different stories. One is from outside a magistrates court in Sussex where cameras were waiting to catch the glamour model Katie Price, another is footage of Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen leaving his New York apartment.
Another shot showing dozens of photographers with long-lens cameras jostling for position was in reality taken outside a Harry Potter film premiere in 2011. It is one of the top results for “paparazzi” on a popular stock image website.
Robert Jobson, the Evening Standard’s royal editor, criticised another dramatic shot of a photographer’s lens peering down on the couple with their newborn child Archie. Jobson insisted it was taken with their approval by an accredited press photographer at Archbishop Tutu’s residence in Cape Town. He tweeted: “Only three people were in the accredited position. H & M [Harry and Meghan] agreed the position. I was there.”
Chris Ship, ITV’s royal editor, backed Jobson: “The filming of Archie at Archbishop Tutu’s residence was highly controlled. And the ITN Productions camera filming the Sussexes’ Africa documentary was there with their permission. It was not a media scrum. They spoke to [ITV news anchor] Tom Bradby inside.”
The issue, in part, is whether this still felt like press intrusion to the couple – even if it was done with the approval of their then-aides. Netflix declined to comment on suggestions the footage was misleading.
Because the show is being made for Netflix – rather than a British television channel – it is not bound by the UK’s broadcast standards code. Under British rules, which are overseen by Ofcom, factual programmes “must not materially mislead the audience” or risk being in breach.
Whether using stock images of camera scrums to illustrate press intrusion would count as a material breach of those rules is unclear. But British television executives live in fear of repeating the BBC’s 2007 mistake, when a misleading trailer apparently showed Queen Elizabeth II storming out of a photoshoot with Annie Liebowitz and incident which led to the resignation of BBC One’s then-controller, Peter Fincham.
It may not help coverage of the Sussexes that they are currently suing the majority of British newspaper proprietors on various grounds, having long ago dropped any pretence that they wish to abide by the traditional rules of royal media engagement. Harry is bringing phone-hacking cases against both News UK (which owns the Sun and the Times) and Reach (which owns the Mirror, Express, and Daily Star). He is also one of a number of prominent individuals who are making serious allegations against Associated Newspapers, the publisher of the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, and MailOnline.
Meghan has already won a separate legal case against the Mail on Sunday after it published a private letter she sent to her father. Only the parent companies of the Guardian, Daily Telegraph, and the Financial Times are not publicly known to be involved in legal battles with the couple.
On Tuesday, Harry paused a separate libel battle against the Mail on Sunday. He says a story they ran about funding for his security team is libellous but the Mail’s publisher is contesting the claim on the basis the article expressed an “honest opinion” and did not cause serious reputational harm.
In a sign of the enormous sums that Harry is willing to spend on these legal cases, the court heard the royal has already paid £340,000 in legal fees for this single case and has budgeted up to £1.2m if the case goes to trial. The two sides will continue negotiations to reach a settlement until 20 January next year – by which point all six episodes of Harry and Meghan, setting out their views on the British media – will have been seen by millions.