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Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are fighting to win their battle with the media.
A new statement from Prince Harry and Prince William denying reports that William "bullied" Harry and Meghan Markle out of the royal family is the latest in a new wave of media challenges from the younger prince.
The couple's announcement that they are stepping back as "senior" royals, and want to become "financially independent" was the culmination of a string of challenges to the media.
Now the couple has effectively declared war on the press, and want to completely redefine how they deal with the media.
Harry and Meghan's proposed changes to their media relationship are laid like a battle plan as they prepare to enter the next, uncharted stage of their royal lives.
Prince Harry and Prince William made a rare joint statement on Monday to deny media reports that William "bullied" Harry out of the royal family.
The statement is thought to have been issued with the aim of denying a "false" story in the UK's The Times newspaper, which claimed that Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan Markle, had been pushed out of the royal family by William.
"Despite clear denials, a false story ran in a UK newspaper today speculating about the relationship between The Duke of Sussex and The Duke of Cambridge," a spokesperson for the brothers told royal correspondent Rebecca English.
It was once almost unheard of for members of the UK's royal family to publicly challenge news reports, even as they remain the subjects of regular, frenzied speculation and scrutiny.
But Prince Harry's name has emerged more and more frequently as he criticizes coverage both directly and indirectly. And his most recent steps suggest one thing: he and Meghan are at war with the media, and are playing to win.
UK Press/ Liason.
Meghan and Harry burned the press when they announced they were stepping back as "senior" royals
The couple's bombshell announcement that they plan to "step back as 'senior' members of the Royal Family and work to become financially independent" last week came with an outline of the changes in how it plans to interact with the media.
Rather than telling media ahead of time, the change was announced on their official website. The announcement came with an entire Q&A page on how the Duke and Duchess want to deal with the media in future.
The dedicated page came with seven questions about the media — revealing just how significant their view of the press was in their decision.
And it seemed to represent a final turn away from the royal family's the traditional mantra: "Never complain, never explain."
'Megxit' was the culmination of the couple's disagreements with the UK media
Harry's confirmation that he was dating Meghan back in 2016 came in a statement that condemned how she was treated online and by the media.
The statement from Kensington Palace noted that he had "rarely taken formal action on the very regular publication of fictional stories that are written about him and he has worked hard to develop a professional relationship with the media, focused on his work and the issues he cares about."
It said that Markle had faced racist coverage because she is biracial: "Markle is biracial — her mother is black and her father is white — and tabloid coverage of the actress has ranged from plain old invasive to downright offensive."
And it noted "harassment" she faced: "The smear on the front page of a national newspaper; the racial undertones of comment pieces; and the outright sexism and racism of social media trolls and web article comments."
The statement said:
"Some of it has been hidden from the public - the nightly legal battles to keep defamatory stories out of papers; her mother having to struggle past photographers in order to get to her front door; the attempts of reporters and photographers to gain illegal entry to her home and the calls to police that followed; the substantial bribes offered by papers to her ex-boyfriend; the bombardment of nearly every friend, co-worker, and loved one in her life."
At the time, the statement was groundbreaking, and described itself as an "unusual" step. But the couple have somewhat normalized royal criticism of media coverage in the nearly three years since.
Markle sued the parent company of British tabloid the Mail on Sunday in 2019 after it published excerpts from a private letter she sent to her father. A statement from Prince Harry at the time said the publication had edited her letter to manipulate the reader, a charge the paper denies.
Jane Barlow/ WPA Pool/ Getty Images
"As a couple, we believe in media freedom and objective, truthful reporting," the statement said.
"Unfortunately, my wife has become one of the latest victims of a British tabloid press that wages campaigns against individuals with no thought to the consequences."
Harry argues that Markle has been willfully misrepresented, bullied, and "vilified almost daily" by "select media outlets" — treatment, he says, that has "escalated over the past year" since she had announced her pregnancy.
Members of the royal family suing the press has happened before — Harry previously won a legal dispute against photo agency Splash News, which used a private helicopter to take pictures of his and Markle's former home.
But Harry's statement was a highly unusual step that set the tone for what was to follow.
For Prince Harry, these steps came after years of indirect criticism and mentions of his the way the press treated his mother, Princess Diana
In Harry's statement criticizing the Mail on Sunday, Harry invoked his mother, the late Princess Diana.
"Though this action may not be the safe one, it is the right one," he said of the legal action.
"Because my deepest fear is history repeating itself. I've seen what happens when someone I love is commoditised to the point that they are no longer treated or seen as a real person. I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces."
Tim Graham/ Getty Images.
But Harry has repeatedly invoked what he says was their role in her death.
In 2017 documentary he said: "One of the hardest things to come to terms with is the people who chased her into the tunnel were the same people who were taking photographs of her while she was still dying on the back seat of the car.
"And William and I know that, we've been told that numerous times by people that know that was the case.
"She'd quite a severe head injury but she was very much still alive in the back seat and those people that caused the accident, instead of helping they were taking photographs in the back seat and then those photographs made their way back to news desks," he said.
He recalled Diana being followed by paparazzi when he was young, describing himself as "a little boy aged eight, nine, 10, whatever it was, wanting to protect your mother."
And he has invoked her memory with increasing frequency as he takes a stand against factions of the media.
His statement condemning racism when he announced that he and Meghan were dating in 2016 also mirrored the kind of language that Harry has used when speaking about Diana.
"Prince Harry is worried about Ms. Markle's safety and is deeply disappointed that he has not been able to protect her," it said.
New steps show Harry and Meghan are playing to win
Kirsty Wigglesworth - Pool/Getty Images
Meghan and Harry, in their criticism of the media, have been careful not to paint themselves as anti-media, and have focused on singling out what they say are certain factions of the media, frequently the tabloid media.
In their statement announcing they are stepping back as senior royals, they said: "The Duke and Duchess believe in a free, strong and open media industry, which upholds accuracy and fosters inclusivity, diversity and tolerance."
And it noted their "collaboration" with outlets like Time Magazine and National Geographic.
This framing is prudent: their announcement last week was itself met with the criticism that they may be unhappy with scrutiny of their actions as ambassadors or spending of public money.
Toby Melville/ Getty Images
But their outline of clear plans for their next steps in dealing with the media suggests they may be planning an attempt to completely reinvent how they're covered by the media, regardless of who is happy about it.
They outlined the current "royal rota" system, which gives certain outlets like The Daily Mail and The Times "the opportunity to exclusively cover an event."
They described the system as one that "predates the dramatic transformation of news reporting in the digital age."
They listed a list of proposed changes in how they want to deal with the media, including:
Engaging with grassroots media organisations and young, up-and-coming journalists;
Inviting specialist media to specific events/engagements to give greater access to their cause-driven activities, widening the spectrum of news coverage;
Providing access to credible media outlets focused on objective news reporting to cover key moments and events;
Continuing to share information directly to the wider public via their official communications channels;
No longer participating in the Royal Rota system.
While not applying to the rest of the royal family, Harry and Meghan's proposed changes are laid like a battle plan as they prepare to enter the next, uncharted stage of their royal lives.
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