Media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s The Sun newspaper — a News Corp (NASDAQ:NWS) subsidiary — was the first mainstream British publication to publish pictures of Prince Harry’s nude frolic in Las Vegas. The newspaper cites free press as the impetus behind its decision, but some say running the photos was a warning message from Murdoch.
According to The Associate Press, journalist Jane Merrick from The Independent alleges that the photos were printed because Murdoch personally ordered the paper to do so during a telephone conversation he had with Tom Mockridge, the chief of his British newspaper unit, News International.
“Not only was The Sun showing Harry’s bottom, Murdoch was mooning the Establishment,” Merrick said.
The once seemingly warm relationship between Murdoch and the royal brood has been noticeably strained after the billionaire and his company became embroiled in a phone-hacking scandal that first surfaced last year.
The nude photos in the center of the controversy first appeared on celebrity gossip site TMZ. Both images were snapped in a hotel suite during a game of strip billiards. In one photo, the 27-year-old prince was wearing only a necklace and a wristwatch — his hands shielded his … er, crown jewels.
The second photo was a bit more risque, as it showed a naked Harry hugging a female ( also nude) from behind. The Sun actually stamped a shroud of decency over the royal’s bum by way of a superimposed crown.
Whether or not Murdoch was sending a message with the pictures, he did send out a tweet asking everyone to cut the prince some slack.
“Prince Harry. Give him a break,” Murdoch wrote. “He may be on the public payroll one way or another, but the public loves him, even to enjoy Las Vegas.”