Tougher regulation of the press could be needed after the Duchess of Sussex was “hounded” in the media, a senior MP has warned.
Labour’s Holly Lynch said legislators had repeatedly backed a voluntary approach to press regulation as their preferred option, but claimed that had failed and it was time to start considering: ‘What next?’
The MP added that freedom of the press should come with a responsibility not to engage in what she claimed was the “aggressive bullying” faced by Meghan.
Ms Lynch, who co-ordinated a letter signed by more than 70 women MPs in support of Meghan in 2019, suggested legislation may ultimately be needed to make the press take responsibility for its coverage of high-profile women.
The letter criticised the “outdated, colonial undertones” in some of the coverage.
“What we said in that letter was there’s got to be an integrity to the British press, to know when something is in the public interest or when it is just tearing down a woman in public life for no reason,” the Halifax MP told the PA news agency.
“Some of that will be harder to find very clear guidance, legislation (for), to make sure that happens in reality, but clearly we cannot have a position where a woman in public life finds that she is feeling suicidal because of the relentless nature of the attacks on her and on her character.
“So we need to find ways that we can create that environment where a woman isn’t hounded in the way that we saw Meghan Markle being hounded.”
She said MPs “do take the freedom of the press really seriously, but the freedom of the press comes with a responsibility to not be engaged in relentless and aggressive bullying of a woman, which is not about accountability, which is about tearing down somebody’s character for no good reason”.
“That’s where you have got to find that balance between responsibility within journalism and freedom of the press,” she said.
“I’m pleased to say there are lots of elements in the press who do find that balance, but there are just some that don’t.”
Ms Lynch, shadow immigration minister in Sir Keir Starmer’s frontbench team, will discuss ways of raising the issue in Parliament on a cross-party basis with other signatories of the 2019 letter.
“I think finding some sort of space in Parliament to raise all of the different concerning elements of this in a debate would probably be an appropriate way forward,” she said.
Ms Lynch said legislators “have demonstrated time and time again that a voluntary approach is the preferred option but how long do you continue to let that fail before you have to recognise it has failed and say: ‘What next?’”
“We are in the very early stages of saying: ‘OK, what next?’, because we are certainly at that point.
“Clearly, even that letter – whilst it was welcomed by the royal couple – didn’t change the behaviour of the press in the way that we hoped it would when we took that intervention.
“And if things like that aren’t working, that to me says appeals for change, appeals for better and a degree of self-regulation clearly is letting women like Meghan down.”
Ms Lynch said MPs had been motivated to intervene in 2019 because whilst Meghan is “to some extent empowered and in a privileged position” there were others, “perhaps women of colour, young girls” who did not have the same status who would be left feeling “isolated and alienated”.
“We have got a responsibility to all of the people who will be reading those headlines as well as Meghan who always was the direct target of it.”
The Society Of Editors released a strongly-worded statement following Harry and Meghan’s interview with Oprah Winfrey.
“The UK media has never shied away from holding a spotlight up to those in positions of power, celebrity or influence,” executive director Ian Murray said.
“If sometimes the questions asked are awkward and embarrassing, then so be it, but the press is most certainly not racist.”