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Is the U.K. Media Gaslighting Prince Harry?

Personal Perspective: Making sense of the media’s response.

Key points

  • Many in the U.K. media trivialized Prince Harry's allegations of being physically attacked.
  • Prince Harry alleged that Prince William claimed that his wife, Meghan, was abrasive to staff, leading to an argument before the alleged attack.
  • The results of an investigation into whether Prince Harry’s wife Meghan bullied staff were kept secret, creating needless secrecy.
  • The media and public need to remember that the current hype is hurtful to Prince Harry, Prince William, and their future relationship.

When Prince Harry recently alleged in his new book, Spare, that his brother, Prince William, physically attacked him in an incident that resulted in Prince Harry landing on the floor and getting injured, there were very few commentators on mainstream U.K. television, radio, and news media who expressed shock about the attack or sympathy for Prince Harry. In almost any other circumstance, it would be very odd for the media to respond in such a way to a story of someone alleging a physical attack. Usually, there would be an outcry and criticism of the attacker. That there wasn't suggests a lack of neutrality in the way that many in the U.K. media talk about Prince Harry. Many commentators responded to the story by blaming the prince for publicising information about his family members, which recalls how victims of domestic violence have previously been told to stop “telling on” their abusive partner.

Rather than expressing shock, denouncing violence, and pointing out that physically attacking someone could be a criminal offence, some people made fun of the attack. Some said it was shameful that Prince Harry told the story about it, and others in the media said they thought it was “normal” for siblings to fight. More, there are few voices in the U.K. media decrying the immorality of the mainstream media making light of an alleged physical attack [1]. Is the U.K. media gaslighting Prince Harry and the public?

The media lawsuit that the media rarely talks about

Prince Harry claimed in a television interview that he is in the process of suing some major U.K. media organisations (he has successfully sued the Daily Mail in the past). He said that those organisations are retaliating against him by planting negative stories about him. If that is true, it might explain the onslaught of negative media reports about him following the publication of his book. There are few U.K. news reports about the lawsuits he claims. If the lawsuits are irrelevant to the media’s approach, one would imagine that the media would discuss them and repudiate Prince Harry’s claims. Instead, the U.K. media tends to present Harry as a paranoid man obsessed with things that are not true.

The media doesn’t usually trivialise physical attacks

It is unfathomable that the U.K. media’s response to the story would have been the same had it involved a male attacker and a female victim, or indeed anyone else except Prince Harry. Their trivialisation of Prince Harry’s allegations can be considered sexist by suggesting it is “okay” if one man hits another. I would argue everyone has the right not to be physically attacked; the law protects everyone from violence, whether they are male or female. By claiming that the next king of the country engaged in appalling behaviour, Prince Harry has shattered the image that the media has painted of the British royal family, existing on a pedestal of ethics and goodness.

Polarisation in views for or against Prince Harry

To complicate matters is the polarisation in the way that the media presents commentaries about Prince Harry. They either present commentators who vehemently criticise and detest him or they present commentators who are vehemently passionate in defending him. There is a lack of meaningful, objective debate.

For example, it is possible to empathise with Prince Harry if, indeed, he was a victim of violence, and criticise Prince William if, indeed, he did hit Prince Harry, while at the same time wanting to give both of them a fair hearing. As well, it is possible to sympathise with Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, while asking whether it is true that Meghan bullied staff. (There is an investigation over bullying allegations by staff, but the outcome was kept secret from the public and the staff are gagged under nondisclosure orders.) If, indeed, it was true that Prince Harry’s wife bullied staff, then that is appalling and wrong because no one has the right to bully anyone, and members of the royal family need to remember that they are only humans, no better than anyone else.

It would be helpful for the outcome of the investigation to be made public, and for the staff concerned to be allowed to speak out so that the public could form an opinion about whether Prince William was legitimately raising concerns on behalf of the staff. If he was doing that, then he should be applauded for speaking up about the well-being of the staff—even while being criticised if he did, indeed, attack Prince Harry in the process, as alleged. More than one thing can be true. The allegation of violence has damaged Prince William’s reputation, and talking candidly to the public would help rehabilitate his image by clarifying his intentions, and if the allegations are true, apologising.

The unanswered questions can help the British public better understand Prince Harry, Prince William’s side of the story, the experiences of staff who claim to have been bullied, and ultimately help end the polarisation in the public and in media opinion, as well as the appalling vitriol to which Prince Harry is victim. However, the current approach of the royal family—one of remaining silent and “rising above” Prince Harry’s claims, means that the information vacuum is being filled by a polarised media.

It is sad that media discussions paint one brother as bad and the other as good when neither of the two brothers are perfect and each might have legitimate complaints against the other


The media needs to show compassion for the mental health of the brothers, remembering that both are human beings, and that both of them still hurt remembering how the media hounded their mother, Princess Diana, to her death.


Book: Public policy and media organisations

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