February 11 marked a key victory in Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s fight to reclaim their family’s privacy more broadly, and against the Associated Newspapers Limited, publishers of The Mail on Sunday and MailOnline, more specifically.
Markle’s case centres on the British tabloid’s unlawful publishing of a letter she wrote to her father, Thomas, following her wedding in 2018. However, the case against ANL had since spiraled out to include other privacy concerns — specifically including Markle’s five close friends, who spoke anonymously to People in her defense, and who ANL pressed to name publicly.
“I respectfully ask the court to treat this legal matter with the sensitivity it deserves, and to prevent the publisher of the Mail on Sunday from breaking precedent and abusing the legal process by identifying these anonymous individuals — a privilege that these newspapers in fact rely upon to protect their own unnamed sources,” Markle’s statement read.
We all lose when misinformation sells more than truth, when moral exploitation sells more than decency, and when companies create their business model to profit from people’s pain.
In the focus of that original complaint, the letter to her father, Markle asked her dad to stop speaking with the media, among other things; he had previously staged photos with the intent to sell them, had reported suffering a heart attack and subsequently pulled out of his daughter’s wedding, missing the opportunity to walk her down the aisle. While the letter had been of a private and personal nature, the ANL published parts of the letter. It chose to omit some portions in favour of ones that overwhelmingly cast Markle in a negative light — outlined in the legal complaint as part of ANL’s campaign to smear her.
The presiding judge High Court, Mr. Justice Warby’s ruling on Feb. 11 backed Markle’s concerns, stating that the publication of Markle’s letter was “manifestly excessive and hence unlawful.”
“It was, in short, a personal and private letter. The majority of what was published was about the claimant’s own behavior, her feelings of anguish about her father’s behavior — as she saw it — and the resulting rift between them,” he said. “These are inherently private and personal matters.”
Ultimately, he ruled in Markle’s favour that “the claimant had a reasonable expectation that the contents of the letter would remain private“ and that “The Mail articles interfered with that reasonable expectation.” Then there’s also the issue of copyright; the judge also found the publication of this letter was an infringement.
In response to the ruling, Markle released the following: “We all lose when misinformation sells more than truth, when moral exploitation sells more than decency, and when companies create their business model to profit from people’s pain,” adding, “I share this victory with each of you — because we all deserve justice and truth, and we all deserve better.”
Prince Harry too had filed his own lawsuit resulting from alleged phone and voicemail hacking in the early 2000s, and while that’s still pending, he had expressed his privacy concerns earlier in his own statement: “I’ve seen what happens when someone I love is commoditized 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.”
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