Case Number: 3429

Council Meeting: 25 September 2023

Decision: No Grounds to Proceed

Publication: Stuff

Principle: Privacy

Ruling Categories:

  1. The New Zealand Herald published an article on May 9, 2023, headlined: King Charles’ Coronation: Prince Harry complained he was ‘fed up’ during ceremony, lip reader reveals. 
  2. The story reported that a lip reader saw Prince Harry saying “I’m fed up with the way they treat me” as he took his place in the third row of seats at Westminster Abbey for the coronation of King Charles. 
  3. Richard Hulse complained the story breached Media Council Principles (2) Privacy and (9) Subterfuge. 
  4. He said public figures should have the right for conversations that a regular person would expect to be private, to remain private. This was clearly a private conversation and the content of that conversation did not in any way meet the high standard of being a “significant matter of public record or public interest.” 
  5. He said the content of the story was obtained by foul means, which was tantamount to spying. It would not be acceptable to use a shotgun microphone to pick out private conversations at such an event or for someone to sit behind Harry with a tape recorder in the hope of catching something juicy.To publish a story where lip reading has been used to the same effect was no different. 
  6. Mr Hulse added that the Herald had a duty to confirm the accuracy of the report before running it as lip reading was an art, not a science, and certainly not fool-proof. 
  7. The Herald responded that there could be no expectation of privacy in an event broadcast live around the world. It was not a private conversation as it was in Westminster Abbey and the Herald did not accept that British media’s use of a lip reader was tantamount to spying or that the subterfuge principle applied in such a context. 
  8. The Media Council does not believe a case has been made to show a breach of its principles. A person having a sotto voce conversation with no expectation that it might be observed, might have a legitimate expectation of privacy. 
  9. But this was not an ordinary person, and this was not an ordinary occasion.  This was a conversation in a public place watched by million, many of whom could lip-read. Prince Harry is one of the most watched people in the world, and this was one of the most watched spectacles in the world.  A public figure, particularly one who has lived his whole life in the public eye and who has made a career of courting media outlets might expect lip readers to pick up on what he said at such an event. 
  10. As for the accuracy of the lip reader’s report of what Prince Harry said, there is no indication that the lip reader got it wrong. 
  11. Decision: There were insufficient grounds to proceed.


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