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Some moments of privacy, please

Do Christians have a special role to play in supporting the royal family and news media?

Recent events involving Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, have reopened long-standing debates about the freedom of the press and the individual’s right to privacy.

Harry and Meghan’s tour of the African continent attracted much favourable comment from the media and the public, but the ITV documentary on the tour has revealed that all is not well with the royal couple. 

In an interview with journalist Tom Bradby, Meghan revealed that since her marriage she has struggled to come to terms with the intense media scrutiny of her personal life. I did not think it would be easy, but I thought it would be fair,” said Meghan. Prince Harry admitted to concerns about his own mental health and said that the attention of the press constantly reminds him of the way in which the media hounded his late mother, Princess Diana. 

Earlier in their African tour, Harry and Meghan initiated legal action against The Sun newspaper, which had published a private family letter highlighting an apparent rift within the Duchess’ family. In earlier years, the royals rarely took their grievances to court, but Harry and Meghan may well be following the example of other wealthy and notable people who, keen to protect their private lives, are increasingly taking out super-injunctions.

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Although no one would deny that the public have taken Harry and Meghan to their hearts, the couple have not escaped public criticism. Harry’s travels in a private jet, while expressing concern about climate change, have earned him criticism, while recent claims that Harry and Meghan have single-handedly modernised the monarchy” have been ridiculed. In reality, the process of modernising the monarchy has been going on for many years. 

Back in the 1950s, the writer and broadcaster Malcolm Muggeridge attracted a great deal of public disapproval when he wrote some mild criticisms of the royal family in an American magazine and referred to coverage of the royal family as a royal soap opera’. It may be inevitable, in a media-saturated age, that public figures, including members of the royal family, should find themselves cast in this role, but this does not excuse the excessive invasions of privacy that have taken place in recent years.

What can we say about these current controversies as Christians? Certainly, we should defend the principle of a free press, recognising that in our society the media have an important role to play in holding public figures to account and shining a light on matters that need to be brought to public awareness. At the same time, we should recognise the right of individuals in the public eye to a degree of personal privacy. 

As consumers of the news media, we have the right to make our views known and to boycott newspapers and media sources that abuse their position. As someone once pointed out, the fact that the public are interested in the private lives of celebrities does not necessarily mean that exposing them is in the public interest.

On the other side of the argument, although privacy is important, there may well be circumstances when it is in the public interest to reveal things about the private lives of people who hold celebrity status and who often employ expensive PR firms to maintain their public reputations. This may be especially true when celebrities’ private lives, and views, do not accord with their public image. Truth and transparency are important in leaders in public life.

When the people of Israel first demanded a king of their own, their request was opposed by the prophet Samuel who believed that this represented a rejection of the rule of God (1 Samuel 8). It’s unlikely that the biblical writers would have anticipated the constitutional monarchy of our own times, and I suspect that most readers of this article will have a healthy respect for the role of the royal family in our present society. 

As Christians, we are commanded to make petitions, prayers, intercessions and thanksgiving…for all people – for kings and all those in authority” (1 Timothy 2:1 – 4). And it may be that believers have a special role to play in supporting both the royal family and the news media in regular prayer.

Photo: Ceremony of Welcome for TRH The Duke and Duchess of Sussex (October 2018)

About the author

Graham Hedges is the Secretary of Christians in Library and Information Services and a trustee of the Christian Book Promotion Trust.

See more from Graham Hedges

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