There’s a rift in our country. An issue that divides families, friends and colleagues… for once we’re not talking about Brexit. So, we can all breathe easy. It’s Harry and Meghan. New Atlas Intern, Tom Butt-Evans, explores the debate…

Let’s start as we mean to go on. We could pretend that this is about both of them. We could discuss the Duke and Duchess as a couple, but let’s be honest. Whether we’re discussing press coverage, Harry’s statements or the division of opinion; we are always discussing Meghan. So, let’s say it.

This is about Meghan.

From the start their love story has been a tabloid battleground. Remember when he released a statement back in 2016? Well, it’s happened again. Their PR is a hotly debated issue. It comes with clear lines that divide opinion and even in our office, there are those that support Team Sussex and others that are sceptical of their strategy.

I AM A “SURE THING”

At the end of their South Africa tour, the couple brought cases against three powerful tabloid publications; The Mail on Sunday, The Sun, and The Mirror. In his impassioned statement, Harry commented that media outlets which had been highly critical of his wife, now praised her in a contrary manner.

Many of the stories published are disputed by the couple. Meghan stated in an ITV documentary, which followed them across their busy tour, that she “never thought it would be easy, but I thought it would be fair.”

Now, Harry and Meghan have chosen incidents that are clearly stacked in their favour towards their victory. The Duchess owns the copywrite to the letter the Mail published, and Harry was named as a victim of phone hacking. However, The Mail are taking it to court – despite knowing they will certainly lose – in the pursuit of a good story.

Trust me, pictures of HRH the Duchess of Sussex in the witness box WILL sell. Afterall, it is all about Meghan.

NEVER COMPLAIN, NEVER EXPLAIN:

I know that every ‘royal expert’ quotes “never complain, never explain” when discussing Harry and Meghan, but stick with me.

It’s less about palace protests and more about basic media relations. Simply: Don’t expose yourself to the media to ask for privacy. This is the reason some question the strategy. It seems easy but this flaw in the plan – whether it’s documentaries, statements etc - is why is public support ebbs and flows for the Sussexs.

If reports of palace aides being left out of the loop are to be believed, another dent in the PR strategy is allowing your spokesperson to speak unbriefed and without a strong message. Harry’s message may be strong but going alone will win him no allies in his comms office.

Diana did all this too. The frenzy around her was made from a mixture of being a master of media spectacle and deeply flawed PR strategies. If Team Sussex continue down this path, could they be doomed to repeat the history Harry is so desperate to guard against?

SCRUTINY VS SLANDER:

As a couple, we believe in media freedom and objective, truthful reporting. We regard it as a cornerstone of democracy and in the current state of the world – on every level – we have never needed responsible media more.
— Statement by His Royal Highness Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex

We have a free press, and long may it continue. Team Sussex argue that they defend it. Exhibit A: Harry’s statement.

This debate between the two sides was perfectly displayed on ‘Have I Got News for You’ where Ian Hislop and Sara Pascoe got into an almost heated argument about Harry’s protesting statement. Pascoe rightly pointed out that he is calling out the overt racism directed towards Meghan, while Hislop correctly countered that scrutiny of our royals was perfectly right. Its freedom cannot be compromised even if we don’t like what it is saying. To quote Hislop, “It’s a free press, no one ever said it was pretty.”

Scrutiny of our royals is perfectly valid. Their role as public figures and ambassadors means that the public has the right to scrutinise them – their work, their position and even their role in society. However, much of what is written about Meghan comes with racism attached. She gets criticism for doing things other royals have done without the same reaction.

This is the crux of the debate. Is she the victim of cruel press or a hypocrite that preaches one thing and does another? Well arguably, both. Harry and she do advocate for environmental causes but use highly polluting private jets. There is some perfectly legitimate scrutiny.

However, discussing her actions, with “may I make the following remarks without being accused of racism” whether it’s as little as her guest-editing Vogue or actual scrutiny, is an entirely different matter.

Plus, frankly, if you’ve got to ask not to be accused of racism, I’m pretty sure you’re about to say something that is racist. Just a hunch.

Meghan admitted that while her friends were happy for her, the Brits among them offered the starkest warning – the “tabloids will destroy your life.” She readily admits she was naïve to the media interest that we, in Britain, recognise so well. The monarchy and the media need each other. Their symbiotic relationship is mutually beneficial, but perhaps it is time we re-evaluate the nature of royal public relations. As Camilla Long delightfully described it, “we pay, you pose.”… Charming.

I don’t believe our relationship with the royals is that transactional, but if it is; isn’t that the prostitution of majesty?

SHE'S A HEADACHE! SHE'S AN ANGEL! SHE'S A HUMAN!

I like Meghan. I think that the work she does and what she represents is brilliant. It’s exactly what we need. Am I pleased about them using a private jet while promoting environmental reform? Not really but no one is perfect.

Scrutiny of our royals is legitimate. However, this is delegitimised by dog-whistle racism and sexism that sits alongside it. The way we express that scrutiny and the language used to other the Duchess is clearly something we need to review and scrutinise itself.

A free press may not be perfect, but its freedom shouldn’t be abused to excuse racism and sexism. To quote the Duchess herself, “that’s different to scrutiny … it’s a really different beast.”

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