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I spent last week holidaying in the remote Cornish countryside, with no phone signal and little access to the national press. But something that did penetrate my news agenda was the ‘to publish or not to publish’ debate concerning pictures of Prince Harry’s exploits in a Las Vegas hotel room. The snaps came to light through Hollywood gossip website TMZ last Wednesday and quickly went viral. But at the same time that the picture was widely available through photo agencies, the Press Complaints Commission was overseeing a British media blackout at the request of Charles’ people at Clarence House.
Only 18 months ago, every tabloid newspaper in the land would have splashed the picture on the front page, and newsagents would have enjoyed selling extra copies to sensation-hungry readers. But the Leveson Inquiry has struck fear in the tabloid news teams, and it’s plain they held back for an extra day, before The Sun broke ranks and printed Prince Harry in all his glory. But this was 48 hours after anyone with a broadband connection and a curious mind had already seen it.
Britain prides itself on an unruly and vibrant press, and competition between titles keeps sales healthier than they might be. But if the tabloids stay away from the sensational stories that were the real circulation boosters, it could well leave the picture flat for some time to come. The national debate has been all about the freedom of the press. But no one seems to have considered the loss of profits in retailers’ tills.
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