London: The restraint on the news media imposed by inquiries related to the phone-hacking scandal crumbled on Friday as The Sun became the first British tabloid to publish photos of Prince Harry cavorting naked with friends in Las Vegas.
The photos, available online for some days, were printed by the Rupert Murdoch-owned The Sun within hours of his daughter, Elisabeth Murdoch, rejecting unbridled profit-making values of her father and brother James Murdoch in a speech at Edinburgh.
The Sun, with a daily circulation of nearly 8 million, cloaked the decision to publish the pictures as a matter of `freedom of speech`, and one that sought to question the wisdom of not making available in print what was freely available on the Internet.
Until now, the Leveson Inquiry and other inquiries set up in the wake of phone-hacking at Murdoch`s News of the World had led to some restraint in the `publish and be damned` culture, particularly in tabloid newsrooms.
The news media`s criticism during televised hearings of the Leveson Inquiry over the past year prompted some debate whether to publish Prince Harry`s photos, while some titles such as Daily Mirror and Daily Mail refused to publish them.
Before the phone-hacking row, none would have countenanced any such restraint.
As The Sun`s decision prompted criticism and many insisted there was no public interest involved in publishing the photos, the tabloid`s managing editor David Dinsmore said in a statement: "There is a clear public interest in publishing the Harry pictures, in order for the debate around them to be fully informed.
The photos have potential implications for the prince`s image representing Britain around the world. There are questions over his security during the Las Vegas holiday. Questions as to whether his position in the Army might be affected."
Dinsmore added: "Further, we believe Harry has compromised his own privacy. These are not pictures of him and a girlfriend at Balmoral.
The prince was in Vegas, the party capital of a country with strong freedom-of-speech laws, frolicking in the pool before inviting strangers to his hotel room for a game of strip billiards. These are hardly the acts of a man jealously guarding his privacy."
A spokesperson for the royal family said: "We have made our views on Prince Harry`s privacy known. Newspapers regulate themselves, so the publication of the photographs is ultimately a decision for editors to make. We have no further comment to make either on the publication of the photographs or on the story itself concerning Prince Harry`s private holiday in Las Vegas."
Harbottle & Lewis, Prince Charles` lawyers, issued a note via the Press Complaints Commission, warning editors that the pictures should not be published as they were taken on "an entirely private occasion" where Harry had a "reasonable expectation of privacy".
Lord Prescott, former deputy prime minister and one of the victims of phone-hacking, said: "It is not about privacy. It is about money, money, money. And they know that by exclusively printing the pictures, assuming they are the only paper which does, they will get everybody buying the paper to see this.
“So they show an utter contempt even for the body [the Press Complaints Commission] they still have some influence in."
John Whittingdale, chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, said: "I`m not sure where the public interest lies in publishing them [the pictures]. The fact that they happened is well known. How the public interest is served by doing this is not clear.I don`t at the moment know their reasons for publishing them but I would be concerned if this is more about trying to boost the circulation of their newspapers."