The Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s Netflix documentary is highly critical of the British media – but the programme is sending millions of readers to the same news outlets they criticise in the film.
Many of the newspapers that have denounced the royal couple for making a Netflix documentary about themselves are also providing wall-to-wall coverage about the contents of the same documentary.
Within two hours of the release of the first episodes, the top 12 stories on MailOnline were all about the couple, complete with pictures, gifs, and screengrabs. The Sun managed seven stories about the couple online within the first two hours.
Articles about the couple drive an enormous numbers of clicks to news websites, making them a top subject for sites that rely on online advertising to make money, with every angle covered. This interest results in intense competition to be the news outlet with the top Google search result for terms such as “Meghan Markle” or “Prince Harry”.
The documentary was released at midnight in California – where both Netflix and the couple are based – but this means it came out at 8am in the UK, perfect timing for British news outlets to enjoy a full day of coverage. The Guardian also ran a live blog summarising the claims the couple made in the programme.
Piers Morgan, who lost his job on ITV’s Good Morning Britain after refusing to apologise for comments about Meghan, has never let his fixation drop. Despite expressing outrage at the couple’s decision to make the documentary, he has no intention of ignoring it. His team have already press-released that he will dedicate the entire hour of his TalkTV programme to the show. The Duchess of Sussex’s stepbrother and the former royal butler Paul Burrell have been booked to appear alongside him.
TalkTV promised fury, pointing out that in the past his “fiery opinions” have previously led to him “dramatically walking off air”. “So, there’s bound to be fireworks as Britain’s most outspoken broadcaster gives his uncensored thoughts on the royal pair and their fly-on-the wall series.”
In the series Prince Harry says the media criticism can be overwhelming. He claimed the wider royal family felt that criticism of Meghan – after her relationship with the prince became public – was “like a rite of passage”. He suggested the royal family failed to account for the “race element” in the coverage of his new girlfriend.
He also explicitly rejected the traditional way that the royal family handled the relationship with royal correspondents at British newspapers and broadcasters: “All royal news goes through the filter of all newspapers within the royal rota, most of which, apart from the Telegraph, happen to be tabloids. It all comes down to control, it’s like: ‘This family is ours to exploit. Their trauma is our story, and our story and our narrative to control.’”
For the first time there will also be a sense of how many Britons watched the programme, after the independent audience measuring organisation Barb started releasing viewing figures for individual Netflix programmes last month.
Despite scrutiny of the editing techniques used in the programme – such as using stock images of photographers from other events to illustrate sections where the couple talk about the media – there is no easy way for British television viewers to complain.
UK viewers have the ability to raise complaints to the media regulator, Ofcom, if they feel a programme on a traditional broadcaster such as BBC or ITV is substantially misleading. But streaming services operating in the UK such as Netflix are not covered by the same tough rules. Instead, as Ofcom has clarified following a number of complaints, Netflix is overseen by the Dutch media regulator.
Even under the Ofcom code, any breach regarding use of stock images or footage for illustrative purposes would need be considered “materially misreading” to count as a breach of broadcasting rules. There is a relatively high bar for breaches of accuracy in non-news programmes and it would need to be proven that a programme “materially misleads the audience so as to cause harm or offence”.