An interview on Oct. 18 with Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, for the ITV documentary “Harry and Meghan: An African Journey” revealed how being subjected to scrutiny from British tabloids has taken a debilitating toll on her mental health. Markle has faced a long and arduous struggle against the British press despite only marrying into the royal family in 2018. From mom-shaming to completely invading the Duchess’ privacy, it is no wonder that the blatant immorality and lack of integrity of British tabloids caused Markle to be in near tears during the interview.
This was the first time that Markle publicly spoke about how the role of the press has been a burden on her personal life and happiness.
“Especially as a woman it’s really—it’s a lot,” said Markle. “So you add this on top of just trying to be a new mom and trying to be a newlywed. … It’s a very real thing to be going through behind the scenes.”
Markle further spoke on how she was warned about continuing her relationship with Harry because of the infamous reputation of the British tabloids: “[they] will destroy your life.”
For the tabloids to have such power over one’s personal life—so much so that Markle’s mental health and reputation are at risk—speaks volumes about the threatening presence of the British press.
The role of the media is not to invade and attack one’s livelihood. Rather, it is to inform, to educate, to organize public opinion based on facts rather than falsities. No matter if any claims made by the tabloids are true, obtaining information by unwarranted, intrusive means is a threat to ethical journalism everywhere.
Most publications’ code of ethics share various similar principles that they must uphold: truthfulness and accuracy, independence, fairness and impartiality, humanity, and accountability.
Based on the allegations that were made against Markle, nearly all of these principles have been breached. The tabloids have shown no regard to the legitimacy of their claims, have never been impartial in their reporting—or lack thereof, certainly have not revealed any remorse for the damage that they have caused to Markle’s well-being and reputation, and most definitely have not admitted fault to their errors.
Without these aspects, a publication is no longer engaging in journalistic practices. Instead, it is nothing more than a trashy, clickbait-filled, unreliable source that operates without a shred of human decency.
Of course, the royal family of Sussex is not the first nor the only victim of such pervasive toxicity that revolves around British media.
A civil suit about former editor of News of the World, a Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid, Andy Coulson hacking British actress Sienna Miller’s phone sparked further investigation into the ethics and culture of the British press. As a result, the Leveson inquiry, a series of public hearings that addressed these issues, was held from 2011 to 2012.
British actor Hugh Grant was one of the victims involved. An allegation that his relationship with his then-girlfriend was “on the rocks” was published by The Mail on Sunday, a tabloid newspaper that shares the same owner as The Daily Mail, despite Grant never publicly announcing anything about it prior.
“The Phone Hacking Scandal: Journalism on Trial” is a book about the Leveson inquiry. A chapter written by director Chris Atkins details how he fed false information to popular tabloids such as the Daily Mirror, the Daily Star, The Sun, and the Daily Express to test their validity in news reporting.
Atkins would pose as an intermediary, such as an ex-boyfriend of a nurse who worked in a plastic surgery clinic, who wanted to sell details about celebrities who received plastic surgery. This was intentionally done to test if publications would violate the Press Complaints Commission’s (PCC) regulations. The PCC was an independent body that regulated the UK press until it was closed in 2014.
Not only did publications run the stories without any legitimate proof, they routinely broke the law. These scenarios also breached the Data Protection Act, which prevents the sale of medical records.
“You can blame the internet,” said writer Steven Barnett for Foreign Policy, “which has gutted traditional business models of journalism around the world.”
According to Barnett, “frantic competition” for a rapidly dwindling audience of readers and “shrinking ad revenue, particularly at the tabloid end of the market,” are why several publications are so eager to turn their backs on the basic norms and principles that journalism hinges on.
While journalism is about remaining objective and impartial, that does not mean that it is perfectly acceptable to harass a public figure to the point of damaging her mental stability. With proper reporting comes having respect and an understanding of basic morality.
It is clear that the British media has not come to grasp the most fundamental part of journalism, nor will it ever if it continues to partake in such horrid malpractice.