Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have been a hot topic in British politics over the past few weeks. From their Netflix documentary to Prince Harry’s new book Spare, the couple have exposed bombshells on themselves and the Royal Family. Whether it be Harry claiming that his brother and sister-in-law made him dress up in a Nazi costume for Halloween or claiming that a royal family member questioned how dark their son’s skin might be.
Some see it as an exquisite exposè on the heartlessness of the Royal Family. Others see it as another example of Meghan’s narcissism and ignorance of British culture.
While I’d argue that the Netflix series is as deep as "Keeping Up with the Kardashians," the drama over the documentary and book has escalated into politicians and political figures advocating for a suspension of free speech. Talk about making a mountain out of a molehill!
The Sussexes’ Attack on the Media
The whole narrative that Meghan and Harry have pushed, from the Oprah Winfrey interview, the documentary and Harry’s autobiography, is that the British media is out to get them. The Netflix documentary has been exposed for using fake paparazzi photos to depict the press hounding the couple.
After making insensitive comments, comparing killing twenty five members of the Taliban on the battlefield to “chess pieces removed from the board,” Harry received backlash from veterans and grieving soldiers. Instead of taking accountability for his sloppy words, Harry blamed the British media for spreading “the dangerous lie” that he was bragging about his experience in Afghanistan.
Furthermore, despite previously claiming that the Royal Family is racist in the Oprah Winfrey interview and in their Netflix documentary, Prince Harry retracted this statement in his more recent interview with Tom Bradby. This is despite the fact that the Sussexes previously said that the Commonwealth was the “Empire 2.0” and that a Royal Family member made inappropriate comments about Archie’s skin color. Harry then spun the story saying that it was the press’s fault as if “there was a hunt for the royal racist.”
It should not be seen as acceptable for a member of the Royal Family to attack and blame the press so frequently. While the Royal Family do not have explicit power over legislation, they do have influence over public opinion which could shape legislation.
The Overreaction from the Government
In response to the Sussexes’ hit piece against the Royal Family and the British media, the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak proposed a change in the law which would bring online streaming services like Netflix under the regulations of Britain’s Office of Communications (Ofcom). This would mean that streaming services could be investigated by Ofcom for complaints such as misusing footage.
These regulations would expand the grip of the government over what is allowed to be said and shown to the British people, restricting the freedom of media organizations and streaming services.
It has been through the freedom of the media that the Sussexes’ lies and exaggerations have been exposed. Furthermore, by Netflix having the freedom to show the documentary, the British public have been able to make up their own minds about Harry and Meghan.
According to YouGov, only 26 percent of Britons have a positive view of Prince Harry. It was only through freedom that Harry and Meghan were able to expose their arrogance. As Oscar Wilde supposedly said: “I may not agree with you, but I will defend to the death your right to make an ass of yourself.”
The Overreaction from the Reaction
Commenting on the Meghan and Harry documentary, Jeremy Clarkson wrote a satirical opinion piece for The Sun describing his exaggerated hatred for Meghan Markle.
Within this article, Clarkson wrote:
“Meghan, though, is a different story. I hate her. Not like I hate Nicola Sturgeon or Rose West. I hate her on a cellular level. At night, I'm unable to sleep as I lie there, grinding my teeth and dreaming of the day when she is made to parade naked through the streets of every town in Britain while the crowds chant, 'Shame!' and throw lumps of excrement at her.”
All those acting in good faith would know that Clarkson isn’t staying awake at night, grinding his teeth at how much he despises Meghan Markle. Clarkson later explained in an apology tweet that the reference of Markle being “made to parade naked around the street” was a clumsy reference to Game of Thrones.
As well as the expected backlash and complaining from the British public, the event was blown out of proportion when sixty Members of Parliament demanded that The Sun should take action against Clarkson and “further definite action is taken to ensure no article like this is published again.”
This was a clear threat against freedom of the press. It should not be the place for politicians to demand that action be taken against a private news outlet and dictate what is and is not acceptable speech. Jeremy Clarkson’s words may have offended many but it should not be up to politicians to determine what the consequences of his article should be.
The outrage extended so far as to demand that Clarkson be prosecuted on terms of “hate speech.” However, the problem with criminalizing speech is that, as Julian Adorney recently wrote for FEE, such laws “…are subjective and are therefore employed at the discretion of those in power. In practice, hate speech is essentially saying things that those in power do not like.”
The Bottom Line
Freedom of speech is essential for deciding which arguments hold value and which do not. It is only through freedom of speech that Meghan and Harry were exposed as narcissists. Similarly, it is only through freedom of speech that Jeremy Clarkson could find out his joke was tasteless.
The court of public opinion is fully capable of appropriately penalizing individuals who have caused public offense without the need for the state to intervene.