The Press Complaints Commission has denied it instructed national newspaper editors not to publish naked pictures of Prince Harry last week.
Despite receiving 3,600 complaints from the public, the PCC has yet to decide whether The Sun's decision to run them requires further investigation.
A spokesman for the independent press regulator, PCC, itself under pressure to prove it still "has teeth" without statutory underpinning, said that reports it had "told" editors what to do last week were simply inaccurate.
Speaking to Media Week, the spokesman said the PCC had simply issued a common place advisory notice, the likes of which it does "twice a week", in the form of an email, conveying the wishes of the Royal’s Clarence House.
"We then left it up to the individual editors to decide for themselves whether or not they would publish the pictures," he said. "There was certainly no formal, consensual agreement made with the PCC that the pictures would not be published."
Complaints from the public over The Sun’s decision to publish the grainy naked shots of the third in line to the British throne have rocketed from 150 on Friday (24 August) – the day it was published – to 3,600 by Tuesday (28 August) afternoon.
Most of the complaints centre on a perceived invasion of Prince Harry's privacy because the pictures had been taken on a smartphone without his consent, in a private Las Vegas hotel room.
The PPC spokesman stressed that Prince Harry’s representative had not yet lodged a formal complaint and said its Executive would be meeting to discuss the matter "in due course".
The spokesman said: "No decision has been made on whether the publication of the photographs of Prince Harry represent a breach of the Editors’ Code of Practice or even if it requires further investigation."
It is unusual for third party complaints to be investigated by the PCC without a complaint from the representative at "the centre of the story", however the spokesman refused to rule out the possibility it could happen in this case.
The outing of a naked prince
The royal family moved to block the publication of a naked Prince Harry after they were first published by the US-based celebrity website TMZ.
In one picture, the prince is shown covering his modesty with his hands, standing in front of a naked woman. Initially, The Sun opted to restage the photo on its front cover on Thursday (23 August) using its own reporter, Harry Miller, as a stand-in for the prince.
The following day, in a move former News of the World editor Neil Wallis said had been made by News Corporation’s chairman Rupert Murdoch, The Sun published the actual photographs.
In a video explaining the decision, the newspaper’s managing editor David Dinsmore said the decision had not been taken lightly, but had become about "the freedom of the press".
He said: "This is about the ludicrous situation where a picture can be seen by hundreds of millions of people around the world on the internet, but can’t be seen in the nation’s favourite paper read by 8 million people every day."
The decision has divided opinion in Westminster, former Fleet Street and beyond.
Departing Conservative MP Louise Mensch told BBC’s Radio 4's 'Today' programme on Friday (24 August): "The PCC totally overstepped their bounds by going to the UK press en bloc.
"Prince Harry, inviting people to his room, did not have an expectation of privacy. More to the point, you can't have a situation where our press as a bloc is so scared of the Leveson Inquiry they refuse to print things in the public interest."
The former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie also welcomed the move, telling BBC2’s Newsnight: "If Prince Harry with no clothes on in a Las Vegas hotel room surrounded by one naked woman and a load of other people he has just met in a drinking-stripping game is not a story then it is hard to know what is".
This ongoing debate is taking place as Lord Justice Leveson formulates his recommendations from an eight-month long inquiry into British press standards, sparked by the News of the World phone hacking scandal.
Ex-deputy Prime Minister John Prescott said that The Sun had shown "absolute utter contempt" for the law and the Leveson Inquiry, while The Independent’s editor Chris Blackhurst stated there was "no justification in showing the pictures".
He wrote: "The fact that the snaps were already out, on the Internet, is not a reason for putting them in a newspaper: plenty of material is on the web but papers choose to ignore it.
"As for freedom, I did not feel in any way that it was threatened."Follow @DurraniMix
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