This post has been updated. See the note below for details.
British tabloids have held off on splashing nude photos of Prince Harry cavorting in a Las Vegas hotel room across their pages, resorting to staged photos and other shots to cover the story.
The British press is hardly known for its restraint with royal skin: Sarah Ferguson was once snapped sunbathing topless with an American businessman while separated from her husband. Nude photos of her ex, Prince Andrew, have also turned up in British tabloids.
But in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal that has eight former News of the World employees facing criminal charges and Britain weighing firmer regulations on the press, British media outlets appear to be more circumspect in exposing the prince -- or perhaps just more skittish about running afoul of the law.
Newspapers were said to be warned that running the nude shots could land them in court for invading his privacy, because the racy photos were taken in a private hotel room before being leaked to gossip site TMZ.
“Farcically British websites, newspapers and television stations were prevented from reproducing them after Prince Charles instructed lawyers to threaten legal action for infringing Prince Harry’s ‘privacy,’” the Daily Mail huffed.
The naked photos weren’t actually banned: Royal officials sent a letter to the watchdog Press Complaints Commission asking them to advise newspapers not to run the images. The commission then passed their concerns on to newspapers, without taking a stand on whether to print them.
That code states “it is unacceptable to photograph individuals in private places without their consent.”
Trying to steer clear of the shots but still cover the story, one tabloid got creative: The Sun, owned by Rupert Murdoch, staged the lurid shot with its own staffers in the buff.
Other papers ran permitted photos of the partying prince and simply described the sensitive shots in print. The Daily Mirror website declared “SEE PICTURES OF PRINCE HARRY NAKED! SORT OF ..” as it linked to cheeky cartoons and drawings of the nude photos.
Former News of the World executive Neil Wallis told the BBC that the British government inquiry into media ethics and regulation had “neutered” the press, hindering it from printing photos that were in the public interest because they revealed the risk to Prince Harry’s security abroad.
[Updated, 3:47 p.m. Aug. 23: After originally not running the photos, the Sun announced late Thursday that it would print them in its Friday edition, saying it had become a matter of press freedom. Managing Editor David Dinsmore called it “ludicrous” that the photos could be easily viewed on the Internet but not in “the nation’s favorite paper.”]
But others argued the story could just as easily be told without the titillating shots. "We don't need to see the pictures. They are gratuitous,” media attorney Mark Stephens told the trade journal Media Lawyer. “It's for that reason they stay away from it."
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: An arrangement of British daily newspapers photographed in London on Thursday shows the front-page headlines and stories regarding nude pictures of Britain's Prince Harry. Credit: Daniel Sorabji / AFP/Getty Images