Fox (n): carnivore of genus vulpes; crafty person; scavenger; (vb) to confuse; -ed (adj): to be drunk.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Decisions, decisions.

IMAGINE being Prince Harry this morning.

You've been asleep for maybe, what, two hours? One? And the phone is ringing. You keep your eyes closed, throw out an arm, find a warm body. You reach a bit further, trying to ignore the tiny gnomes in jackboots which have just started stamping around the inside of your head.

You find something which feels like a condom wrapper, then a condom - ick - and then your phone. You bring it to your ear. The warm body gets up and goes to the bathroom. "Whu?"

A voice speaks and as the words sink in an eye cracks open. It blinks against the early morning desert sun peeking through the blinds of your $2,500 suite, and then it closes again. "Er, yeah. Yeah I think that was me. They're where?"

A pause. "How's granny?" Another pause. "I'll ring her later." Prince Harry ends the call and sits up. He runs a hand through his hair and sighs. Then he smirks at a memory, and the smile freezes on his face as his bed partner returns.


The gnomes start to tap-dance. Something in the bathroom growls.

AND SO FRIGGIN' WHAT?

An Army pilot expecting to be deployed to Afghanistan by the end of the year - and who has just been on official duty at the London Olympics - has had an awesome holiday in Las Vegas.

A 27-year-old man in peak physical shape has met loads of girls in bikinis. A rich lad born into incredible privilege has done exactly what any of us would had we bumped into Ryan Lochte at a pool party at 3am after a few cocktails, and challenged the man who beat Michael Phelps to a swim-off.

The fact the pool in question was probably 90 per cent urine by that point in the night was either here nor there.

And now he's been photographed bare-ass naked, in his suite, with an equally naked girl, after he and his mates decided to play strip billiards.

He probably doesn't give a flying toss if the pictures are seen or not, and if he does it's a bit late because overnight they've been around the world. There's probably someone in Ougadougou thinking to themselves: "That sounds EPIC. What's billiards?"

It's all harmless fun. He's not the heir to the throne, he's not married, he's not committing any crimes. Frankly I'll be disappointed in him if he escapes Vegas without at least one stripper claiming she's a princess or being subject of a paternity suit.

In normal circumstances the pictures would mean subs sharpening their pencils to come up with some world-class puns about the Crown Jewels. Instead, newspapers don't know what to do with them.

Twenty years ago a picture of Prince Andrew naked in a river was printed on the front of The Sun because it was funny. They put a crown over his janglies but they can be seen on the internet still, if you crave disappointment.

There was no particular reason for using the picture - it had been taken years earlier by a girlfriend, who sold it on after the fourth-in-line to the throne got married. Politicians harrumphed about it and it's never been reprinted.

Since then things have changed. Princess Diana died in a car crash while being pursued by paparazzi, the rich and powerful have exploited a human right to respect privacy into their own secrecy laws, and a newspaper which poked its nose too far has been shut down.

A year-long inquiry into the culture and practices of the Press is on summer holiday - no idea if Lord Leveson's in Vegas, but I'll bet not - but has yet to report back on recommendations for possible new rules we'll have to follow.

It all adds up to newspapers being painted into a corner, with one eye on their budgets which mean they need to avoid unnecessary court costs and another on the line they don't want to cross before that report is written, just in case they make things any worse.

Meanwhile the public mood changes every five minutes, from loathing the paparazzi which hounded Princess Di to slathering over internet pictures of her son naked in his private hotel room and questioning his parenthood.

Billions can see the photos for free with one click, yet because of those secrecy laws to use them in a newspaper for which far fewer people would have to get up off their bums, walk to a shop, and hand over some money in order to see them, is legally quite risky.

Despite the fact most of us think those pictures are funny, that there aren't many who'd seriously criticise Harry especially if told the military do pre-deployment training in Arizona and he's probably off to Afghan quite soon, they can't be published simply to update those puns.

The only justification for publication today would be that it was in the public interest. This is a tricky thing to define, because it starts off with exposing crime and goes down a sliding scale into public morals, which is in every sense a sticky area.

Were Harry taking cocaine in the pictures, they'd be used without question. If he were married, they'd likewise sail on to the front page.

As it is, newspaper picture editors are hopping up and down waiting for Los Angeles to wake up so they can bid for them, because as a Royal, as third-in-line to the throne, and as someone accompanied by publicly-funded protection officers who seem to have taken the night off and left the nation's favourite roustabout to get off his trolley with strangers bearing unnoticed electrical devices there's a sizeable security breach.

Their job is not to stop Prince Harry having fun, or to point out that when playing strip billiards it is best to start with more items of clothing than one pair of swimming trunks. The coppers of my acquaintance would wish him luck and take themselves off to bed. But if these people can get to him, so could terrorists, kidnappers, and blackmailers. We spend hundreds of thousands on his security alone - and if he's not secure, it's in the public interest to show it.

But bidding for the right to use the pictures means nothing. The lawyers and newsdesks will spend most of the day arguing about what they ought to do, how ridiculous it is for photos which everyone can see can't be reproduced in a newspaper, the right to privacy even for Royals, that as he covered himself he was aware the photos were being taken, that Clarence House has asked for them not to be printed and that if it was anyone else in those pictures they probably wouldn't be used at all.

Pics of a now-single Tom Cruise naked in a hotel room wouldn't be printed because there'd be no public interest. Unless he were doing something morally or criminally questionable it wouldn't even warrant a mention never mind a picture, which proves better than any inquiry that the British Press has changed an awful lot in 20 years.

The decision to use the pictures will come down, as it should, to the editors. They will weigh up the legal rights and wrongs, think about what The Reader would want them to do, worry a bit about Leveson, and then earn the enormous salaries they are paid by taking a punt in one direction or another.

Whatever they decide, there are some things which are indisputable.

Firstly, that Harry's accident of birth is not only what gives him great privilege but also great scrutiny. In this case, that scrutiny is probably valid even if it didn't ought to be too critical.

Secondly that everyone who craved a Press which is - depending on your view - quieter, more thoughtful, better-behaved, scared, cowed or censored they've got it. There is zero risk of anyone hacking a phone.

And thirdly that it doesn't matter what Lord Leveson says in his report, or what powers the new Press Complaints Commission will have. It doesn't even matter if a footballer seeks an injunction, or if as happened earlier this month a judge bans mention of Prince Harry's tangential involvement in a crime.

All those things are meaningless to the internet. The more people attempt to control what newspapers do, the more they will shift what they do online.

Therein, perhaps, lies our salvation. Not only will newspapers have more readers, more people will have more news and in return we will have instant access to the greatest control any journalist can have - the opinion of The Reader.

If they don't like it, we don't do it. It was public disgust that closed the News of the World, and it's public prurience which is probably going to drive these Harry pictures into tomorrow's newspapers.

In the end it comes down to you - if you don't want to see Prince Harry naked, don't click.

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