Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's surprising, and perhaps shocking, announcement that they are intending to step back from their senior positions within the Royal Family has been subsequently approved in principle by the Queen, but is subject to detailed further discussions. The media world has been taken aback to discover that they had secretly prepared an 'official' website with some contentious content which was imposed without any prior warning to the Queen, Prince Charles or Prince William.
And media folk were especially taken aback in that the couple had included a planned media strategy – including withdrawing from the long-standing 'Royal Rota' – in escalating their bitter war against the British tabloids. To ensure secrecy, the snazzy navy blue and grey website, built with very elegant typefaces and high-quality photographs, was constructed by a Toronto-based firm, Article. Meghan has previously worked with Article on her now-defunct lifestyle blog, 'The Tig', which had served as an outlet for her to talk about her humanitarian efforts and to highlight inspirational women in her life. 'The Tig' shut down in 2017 as her relationship with Harry became more serious.
The new website features pages titled 'supporting community', 'serving the monarchy' and 'strengthening the Commonwealth' – explaining why and how the royal couple plan to carry out their proposed 'progressive new role' within the Royal Family. It also lists their patronages – Harry (16) and Meghan (4). While it is unclear how long the website – www.sussexroyal.com
– has been in the making, it is likely that the royal couple spent a portion of their recent six-week holiday in Canada finalising their new digital home.
Ryan Sax, the founder of Article, told the upmarket US lifestyle magazine, Town & Country
: 'To know that they [the Duke and Duchess of Sussex] chose our boutique Canadian agency means so much to us, and I'm happy we could create something special for them'. Town & Country
is the oldest continually published general interest magazine in the US – founded in 1846, with its 2015 circulation quoted as 486,217 copies. The media section of the couple's 'official' website is printed in full below. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex titles have been abbreviated to D&DS:
How will the D&DS handle media relations in the future? In the spring of 2020, the D&DS will be adopting a revised media approach to ensure diverse and open access to their work. This adjustment will be a phased approach as they settle into the new normality of their updated roles. The updated approach aims to:
• Engage with grassroots media organisations and young, up-and-coming journalists
• Invite specialist media to specific events/engagements to give greater access to their cause-driven activities, widening the spectrum of news coverage
• Provide access to credible media outlets focused on objective news reporting to cover key moments and events
• Continue to share information directly to the wider public via their official communications channels
• No longer participate in the Royal Rota system
What is the 'Royal Rota' system? The Royal Rota was established more than 40 years ago as a way of giving UK print and broadcast media exclusive inside access to the official engagements of members of the Royal Family.
Under this system, the rota, or pool, gives these British media representatives the opportunity to exclusively cover an event, on the understanding that they will share factual material obtained with other members of their sector who request it. The current system predates the dramatic transformation of news reporting in the digital age. The core group of UK outlets with Royal Rota access remain the predominant news source through which worldwide media organisations receive content on the official engagements of members of the Royal Family. These UK media outlets are: the
Daily Express, the
Daily Mail, the
Daily Mirror, the
The Times and
Why have The D&DS elected to change their media policy now? The D&DS have chosen to revise their media policy to reflect both their forthcoming change as members of the Royal Family with financial independence, and their wish to reshape and broaden access to their work.
How does this new media policy relate to the UK's Royal correspondents? 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.
What is The D&DS’s stance on media in general? The D&DS believe in a free, strong and open media industry, which upholds accuracy and fosters inclusivity, diversity and tolerance. Both the D&DS have collaborated with media organisations including
Time magazine, the
National Geographic magazine, the
British Vogue magazine and various others. Their Royal Highnesses recognise that their roles as members of the Royal Family are subject to interest, and they welcome accurate and honest media reporting as well as being held to account if appropriate. Equally, like every member of society, they also value privacy as individuals and as a family.
Will they continue to have a social media platform? Yes. The D&DS will continue to have a social media platform. They look forward to continuing their use of social media and believe that their updated media approach will enable them to share more, with you, directly. Historically, the understanding with the Royal rota expects that if their Royal Highnesses were to release a photo that has never been seen, they would be expected to give the image to the rota (of which four of the seven are UK tabloids) simultaneously or in advance of their own release. This formula enables these select publications to profit by publishing these images on their websites/front pages. Any breach in this understanding creates long-term repercussions. The current structure makes it challenging for the D&DS to personally share moments in their lives directly with members of the public (via social media for example), without first going through the filter of the Royal Rota.
Is this change of policy being adopted by other members of the Royal Family? The changes outlined above apply to the D&DS and their son, Archie. They do not speak on behalf of the other members of the Royal Family in regards to their media relations policies.
It must be assumed that the Daily Mail
and the Sun
(and their Scottish editions), the Daily Mirror
and the Daily Star
are the four main targets for Harry and Meghan's displeasure of the UK's daily newspapers. It is very probable that several of the Sunday newspapers, including the Sunday editions of dailies, the Sunday People
, and, especially the Mail on Sunday
, are also on their hit list. It should be pointed out that Scotland has its own Royal Rota, drawn up by the Scottish Office, which includes the Scottish Daily Express
, the Scottish Daily Mail
, the Scottish Sun
, and the Daily Record
, bracketed with the Daily Mirror
, both of which are owned by Reach plc. The Daily Mirror
has a very small circulation in Scotland.
The Sussex's surprise announcement came after several media-linked organisations raised concerns over government access for national and regional journalists in Westminster after sudden changes to the lobby system without any prior consultation. The Society of Editors has sent an open letter to the Prime Minister calling for him to look again at the changes which have seen journalists attend lobby meetings at 9 Downing Street instead of the Houses of Parliament.
National Union of Journalists (NUJ) General Secretary, Michelle Stanistreet, told HoldTheFrontPage media website: 'Both instances appear to attempt to prevent the media from functioning and compromising the ability of journalists to do their jobs, which is completely unacceptable. Will it mean that local newspapers will be excluded from royal visits? Who determines which media is "credible" and "objective"? The rota system is not perfect but it does allow UK media to cover the British Royal Family... We cannot have a situation where journalists writing about the Duke and Duchess of Sussex can only do so if they have the royal seal of approval. We reject sweeping criticism of journalists and media organisations by the Duke and Duchess, who, simultaneously, claim to respect the role of the media. Any so-called reforms must enhance access and improve transparency rather than allowing access to public figures, regardless of who they are, on a grace-and-favour basis'.
The News Media Association (NMA), which administers the Royal Rota, said: 'Alongside other media sectors, the NMA participates in the Royal Rota system by allocating passes on behalf of its members. The system is well used and understood by both the royal households and the diverse range of media outlets which participate in it, including national and international news agencies, broadcast outlets, news websites, and local, regional and national news brands, reaching millions of people every day. Following recent developments, we will be writing the royal households to seek reassurances about their commitment to the system'.
All of this is a work in progress.