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British monarchy rocked by Instagram post

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A radical new approach to dealing with the media

The Duke And Duchess Of Sussex Visit Canada House Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Harry and Meghan, announced on Instagram that they “intend to step back as ‘senior’ members of the Royal Family and work to become financially independent, while continuing to fully support Her Majesty The Queen.” The two apparently did not consult with either the Queen or the Prince of Wales before publishing the statement, according to the BBC.

The statement marks a radical departure for one of the most carefully-managed families on Earth. A statement from Buckingham Palace feels frankly icy: “Discussions with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are at an early stage. We understand their desire to take a different approach, but these are complicated issues that will take time to work through.”

Celebrities — most notably Beyoncé — have long used Instagram as a way to speak directly to the public without the intermediary of the press, but this is a departure for the royal family. The royalty has something called the “Royal Rota” system, a pool of reporters from seven British newspapers who cover the various public events the royal family attends — and it was put in place well before Instagram ever existed. Prince Harry and Meghan will no longer participate in this system, they said in a statement on their website. They have changed the policy because they “wish to reshape and broaden access to their work.”

This seems to be partly because the royal couple didn’t care for the press they were receiving. In the statement, they wrote:

Britain’s Royal Correspondents are regarded internationally as credible sources of both the work of members of The Royal Family as well as of their private lives. This misconception propels coverage that is often carried by other outlets around the world, amplifying frequent misreporting. Regrettably, stories that may have been filed accurately by Royal Correspondents are, also, often edited or rewritten by media editorial teams to present false impressions.

The statement is pointed. Meghan and Harry are suing the publisher of The Daily Mail, a member of the Royal Rota, over alleged misuse of private information, infringement of copyright, and breach of the Data Protection Act of 2018. Harry has also filed suit against the owners of The Sun and The Daily Mirror, two other members of the Royal Rota.

In today’s statement on their website, the couple emphasized that they respect the role of media in public life, as well as accurate reporting and reporting that “fosters inclusivity, diversity and tolerance.” They will use their social media accounts to “share more, with you, directly.” As members of the Royal Rota, they were expected to give any unreleased images to that group first. That makes it difficult for them to post photos on their Instagram accounts without allowing the Royal Rota to publish them first. Now, their Instagram account is likely to be much more interesting.

This is close to the logic that has led to American celebrities using social media — the chance to speak directly to an audience, without the intermediary of a reporter, who may write something the celebrity doesn’t like, or get the story wrong. Meghan has said that adjusting to royal life has been “hard” and that the British tabloids’ treatment of her has been difficult to bear. “I never thought that this would be easy, but I thought it would be fair and that’s the part that’s really hard to reconcile,” she said in an interview with ITV’s Tom Brady.

“When I first met Harry, my friends were so excited. My US friends were happy because I was happy,” Meghan said in that interview. “But my British friends, they were sure he was lovely, but they said I shouldn’t do it because, ‘The British tabloids will destroy your life.’”