Is Meghan Markle’s privacy case a stepping stone for press accountability?

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After a tedious three-year battle, with civil action starting in 2019 when the world was not plagued with Covid-19 variants, Meghan Markle finally won her legal fight against the publisher of The Mail on Sunday. After leaking a “personal and private” letter sent to her estranged father in a total of five articles, she accused the Mail of misusing private information, infringing on copyright laws, and breaching the Data Protection Act – three charges that the Mail has now been, in my opinion, rightfully sued for.

With Meghan Markle dominating the public eye since her marriage to Prince Harry in 2018, it is no question that she is a victim of every journalist’s desire for attention-grabbing stories. She is targeted daily with nonsensical articles bashing her for the most ridiculous things. Accused of cradling her baby bump ‘just for a photo opportunity’ and attacked for breaking royal protocol by wearing wedge shoes, the very same shoes that were ironically ‘the most versatile summer shoes’ when worn by Kate Middleton, Meghan is accustomed to the media’s pathetic twisting and turning of information for a story. Yet, when this information is intensely private, ethical questions begin to arise about the threshold for privacy invasion.

Prying readers must take a backbench

This is what this legal case illustrates – when the threshold is exceeded. It seems publishers think they can escape the media laws that govern what they can do, being able to publish invasive articles without repercussions. Journalism here has gone off an ethical cliff edge. Articles that invade a public figure’s privacy are justified by the public’s right to know – a right which every liberal welfare state endorses. Every individual has a right to know what is going on in the chaotic world, yet when this knowledge comes at the cost of invading the human right of privacy, the interests of curious, prying readers must take a backbench.

Yet, the Mail continued to defend the publication of Meghan’s letter upon these grounds, claiming that the letter ‘raised issues of public interest of the breakdown of Megan and her father’s relationship’. As journalism can only thrive when readers’ interests are fulfilled, it follows that the invasion of privacy is not unethical but is just another downside of publishing. It is just something that must happen for the journalism industry to prosper.

Inalienable right to privacy

Meghan has acknowledged this risk. Being aware that in ‘unfortunate conditions’ the letter could be leaked, she referred to her father as “daddy” to “pull on heartstrings if disclosed”, even deliberately half-finishing sentences so no page could be falsely represented. Defendants of the Mail claimed that if she expected this inevitable privacy invasion, why make such a fuss?

However, one must notice the injustice lying within this claim. Journalism at the corporate level is an industry purely driven by profits, where public figures are commoditised to contribute to financial gains. Whilst being a public figure makes one more susceptible to privacy invasion, Meghan is still a human with an inalienable right to privacy. Reinforcing this claim, she states that they were ‘dehumanising practices’ that ridiculed and reduced her to a mere commodity, where the public’s interest in Meghan and her father’s relationship became more important than preventing the practice of dehumanisation.

Meghan’s concluding even accused the court itself of purposely prolonging the case, making a ‘straightforward case extraordinarily convoluted to generate more headlines and sell more newspapers’. Not only was Meghan exploited by publishers, but by the very court she was trying to pursue justice from – an injustice that seems inescapable for those placed in the public eye. This is not journalism at its finest.

Reshape the tabloid industry

However, after the Mail was forced to take accountability for their actions, this marks a huge steppingstone in press accountability. With the courts claiming that the letter’s contents were ‘personal, private and not matters of legitimate public interest’, this case has enabled the public to see the disadvantages of pleasing their curiosity. Showing that the human right to privacy will always be prioritised over public interest, Meghan pleaded that those victimised by the publishing industry should be “brave enough to reshape the tabloid industry that profits from the lies and pain that they create”.

In the end, it is resilience that guarantees the serving of justice – without it, the press will continue to ignore one’s absolute rights for the opportunity to get a page-turning, profit-producing story. Until then, public figures can only fight for their individual battles until a worldwide consensus is reached among journalists.

Image: Bank Phrom via Unsplash

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