UK: Harry and Meghan spur freedom of speech debate

LONDON: The fallout from Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s interview with Oprah continued apace on Wednesday, with journalist Piers Morgan dramatically quitting his position as host of one of the United Kingdom’s (UK) top morning TV shows in defense of his freedom of speech.

Morgan, 55, had been the co-host of ITV’s Good Morning Britain for five years before quitting Tuesday night.

Ratings soared during Brexit and the pandemic as he held the government’s feet to the fire through his hard-hitting interviews.

In recent shows, he has been particularly outspoken against Meghan Markle and in defense of the Royal Family.

He was the editor of one of the most circulated tabloids, the Daily Mirror, from 1995 to 2004.

Speaking to local media outside his home, he said, “I don’t believe almost anything that comes out of her (Meghan Markle’s) mouth and I think the damage she’s done to the British monarchy and the queen at a time when Prince Philip is lying in hospital is enormous and frankly contemptible.”

“If I have to fall on my sword for expressing an honestly-held opinion about Meghan Markle and that diatribe of bilge that she came out within that interview, so be it. I think it’s fair to say, although the woke crowd will think that they’ve canceled me, I think they will be rather disappointed when I re-emerge,” he added.

When asked by Oprah why the couple did not want to make Archie, their son, a prince, Meghan revealed that in the months leading up to his birth, there were conversations being held in the Palace on how dark his skin would be, what that would mean for the Palace, and how he would not be given a royal title.

“There were concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he’s born,” Meghan, who is herself mixed-race, said to Oprah’s shock.

She added that she “didn’t want to be alive anymore” living inside the Palace.

When asked by Oprah if she thought about suicide, she said, “Yes, this was very, very clear, and very scary.”

Meghan said she sought help from the “institution” but was denied.

Buckingham Palace released a short statement in response, which said, “The whole family is saddened to learn the full extent of how challenging the last few years have been for Harry and Meghan.

The issues raised, particularly that of race, are concerning. Whilst some recollections may vary, they are taken very seriously and will be addressed by the family privately. Harry, Meghan and Archie will always be much-loved family members.”

On his show, after the interview was aired, Morgan said he “didn’t believe a word” of it, leading to 41,000 complaints being lodged against him with the national media regulator.

On Wednesday morning, Morgan tweeted, “On Monday, I said I didn’t believe Meghan Markle in her Oprah interview. I’ve had time to reflect on this opinion, and I still don’t. If you did, OK. Freedom of speech is a hill I’m happy to die on. Thanks for all the love and hate. I’m off to spend more time with my opinions.”

The tweet was accompanied by a quote by Winston Churchill that said, “Some people’s idea of free speech is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone says anything back, that is an outrage.”

The Press Association reported that Meghan had formally complained to ITV about Morgan’s comments, but on their impact on mental health generally rather than his views on her allegations of racism and lack of support by the Palace.

Earlier on Tuesday, Morgan had walked off the set of his show during a heated debate with a colleague who accused him of “continuing to trash” Meghan.

Later on Tuesday, ITV released a statement saying, “Following discussions with ITV, Piers Morgan has decided now is the time to leave Good Morning Britain.
ITV has accepted this decision and has nothing further to add.”

Society of Editors

The issue of freedom of speech also drew the Society of Editors into controversy. The organization has almost 400 members, including editors, and says it fights for media freedom.

After the interview, the Society released an initial statement that said, “The UK media is not bigoted and will not be swayed from its vital role holding the rich and powerful to account following the attack on the press by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.”

Ian Murray, executive director of the Society of Editors, added at the time, “It is not acceptable for the Duke and Duchess to make such claims without providing any supporting evidence.”

The statement caused controversy within the media industry and among journalists from both white and minority ethnic backgrounds.

An open letter initially signed by 167 journalists of color said, “The blanket refusal to accept there is any bigotry in the British press is laughable, does a disservice to journalists of color, and shows an institution and an industry in denial.”

On Wednesday, the furor forced them to reverse their stance partially, and in a new statement, they said their initial statement “did not reflect what we all know: that there is a lot of work to be done in the media to improve diversity and inclusion. We will reflect on the reaction our statement prompted and work towards being part of the solution.”

The damage was done, however.

ITV news anchor Charlene White, who is Black, withdrew from hosting the National Press Awards, organized by the Society of Editors.

In a statement, White told Murray, “Perhaps it’s best for you to look elsewhere for a host for your awards this year. Perhaps someone whose views align with yours: that the UK press is the one institution in the entire country who has a perfect record on race.”

In a further action, Murray said he would step down from his role at the society so it could “rebuild its reputation.”

Prince Harry had accused some British tabloids of being “racist” and “bigoted”.

Stepping back

In January 2020, the royal couple officially stepped back from their senior positions in the royal family and was no longer using their official titles, His/Her Royal Highness (HRH), which is usually given to senior members of the House of Windsor.

The decision resulted from intense media scrutiny of the couple by British tabloids who were accused of bullying and intruding in their personal lives.

It is understood that Buckingham Palace was disappointed with the decision and was not even consulted beforehand.

In September 2019, Meghan sued the Associated Newspapers after their affiliates, the Mail on Sunday and Mail Online, published a private letter that Meghan had written to her estranged father and sought damages for alleged misuse of private information, copyright and infringement, as well as the breach of the Data Protection Act.

Last month, the duchess of Sussex won a high court privacy case against the Mail after a two-year legal battle. 


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