However, the Sun can, and is, arguing that publication fits the definition of the public interest, for which legal exceptions are made. The House of Windsor declined to say whether it would file suit.
“The photos have potential implications for the Prince’s image representing Britain around the world,” the Sun said in an editorial. “There are questions over his security during the Las Vegas holiday. Questions about whether his position in the Army might be affected. Further, we believe Harry has compromised his own privacy.”
At the very least, the incident shows just how difficult it has become for Britain’s media to find its footing after the phone-hacking scandal, in which thousands of public figures and average citizens saw their privacy violated by journalists.
The nation’s power structure appeared divided on the Sun’s decision. Some insisted it was evidence that tabloids, and particularly Murdoch, had yet to learn a lesson. John Prescott, former deputy prime minister and a phone-hacking victim, tweeted that the move showed “contempt” for British privacy laws, adding: “This isn’t in the public interest. It’s in Murdoch’s self-interest.”
Max Clifford, one of Britain’s best-known communications consultants who places stories and photos in British tabloids, said he had refused photos from the Las Vegas party offered to him separately by two American women. He called the images “an intrusion of privacy.”
Harry “wasn’t doing anything disgusting or disgraceful; he wasn’t taking heavy drugs, with underage girls,” he said.
In the wake of the Leveson inquiry, he said, there has been a seismic shift in the culture of Fleet Street. “Newspaper editors are very frightened of bringing out all kinds of things,” Clifford said.
Others contended that is exactly why the Sun’s decision should be celebrated.
“The Press Complaints Commission totally overstepped their bounds by going to the U.K. press . . . and telling them not to publish these photographs,” Louise Mensch, a Conservative member of House of Commons, told the BBC. She added: “We cannot have a situation where the press as a bloc is so scared of the Leveson inquiry that they refuse to print things that are in the public interest.”
Although the commission received about 850 complaints Friday about the paper’s publication of the photos, the Sun, echoing the sentiments of most Britons, laid out its position that it was not passing moral judgment on Harry. There has been some limited criticism here of the prince’s romp, stirring up flashbacks of the controversy in 2005 when he was photographed wearing a Nazi uniform to a costume party. But for the most part, few have taken the prince’s partying very seriously, and the incident did not appear to be putting a dent in the high popularity of the royal family.
Rather, concern has centered largely on the lack of judgment he and his security detail showed in allowing such photographs to be taken and leaked. Otherwise, many here seemed to be embracing an attaboy mentality to the antics.
“The real scandal would be if you went all the way to Las Vegas and you didn’t misbehave in some trivial way,” London Mayor Boris Johnson told the BBC.