LONDON—Britain’s press thrashed out Saturday whether The Sun newspaper had done the right thing by eventually publishing pictures of a naked Prince Harry cavorting with similarly-clad women in Las Vegas.
Rupert Murdoch’s flagship British tabloid broke ranks with other UK papers Friday in printing the two images, saying it was striking a blow for press freedom.
Britain’s top-selling newspaper said it was ludicrous that they should not be seen on UK news stands when millions had already seen them online and in foreign publications, including just across the border in the Irish Republic.
No other British newspapers have run the pictures of the 27-year-old army helicopter pilot, who is third in line to the throne.
Some nonetheless defended The Sun’s right to do so, while others insisted there was no justification for printing them.
Industry figures say the wider British media did not run them due to fears that the phone-hacking scandal at Murdoch’s now-defunct News of the World will spark tougher regulation of the press.
The scandal, which saw Murdoch close the 168-year-old tabloid in July last year, sparked an inquiry led by judge Brian Leveson, who is due to make recommendations on the future of press regulation by the end of the year.
The Guardian said the only reasonable publication test was not entertainment or sales but an agreed concept of the public interest.
“The argument that the material is already in the public domain is a strong one — but also dangerous. Taken to its logical extremes, it means Britain abandons any kind of ethical, regulatory or legal framework,” it said.
“The stage is thus set for a balancing of two human rights — freedom of expression versus privacy. On the facts of this particular case it is a fine balance.
“Rupert Murdoch’s tabloids have, by their actions, undermined any public trust in allowing editors the complete freedom to do as they deem fit. The Sun surely understands that.”
Newspapers will have to work with Leveson to create a regulator “which can reach fair and swift decisions in cases where there is a tension between freedom of expression and privacy”.
The Times, a Murdoch-owned paper, said newspapers should be allowed to judge what is fit to print.
It said Britons were “almost equally divided between those outraged by what they see as a gross invasion of privacy… and those who accept that the boisterous antics of Prince Hal… are as risible as they are inconsequential.
“What value can be be placed on privacy if its enforcement is now impossible?
“Self-censorship prompted by fear of what the courts may or may not do can be as insidious as actual censorship,” it added.
Whatever Leveson recommends, “why should newspapers, uniquely, be expected to abide by a code of privacy that neither hundreds of websites nor the press overseas nor indeed many of their readers trawling through alternative sources of information now respect?
“We chose not to publish these pictures ourselves. But The Times does support the right of others to choose differently.”
The Daily Mail also said: “we resolutely defend the right of all newspapers to publish responsibly what they believe is in their readers’ interests.”
The Independent’s editor Chris Blackhurst wrote that there was “no justification in showing the pictures”.
“The fact that the snaps were already out, on the Internet, is not a reason for putting them in a newspaper: plenty of material is on the web but papers choose to ignore it.
“As for freedom, I did not feel in any way that it was threatened.”
After Friday’s splash, The Sun ran only a page nine story entitled “MPs back The Sun over Harry Pic”.