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News Corp.'s The Sun Publishes Photos of Naked Prince Harry

Prince Harry Bahama Tour - P 2012
Chris Jackson/Getty Images

The U.K. tabloid causes debate in media circles as it splashes a picture on its front page despite the Royals' appeal to keep them out of the press.

LONDON – British tabloid The Sun, published by News International, the U.K. newspaper arm of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., was the first U.K. newspaper to publish naked pictures of Prince Harry.

The tabloid, which hits the streets Friday with the images, broke clear of the mainstream U.K. press with the move, defying requests by St James's Palace via the Press Complaints Commission not to publish the grainy cellphone images.

Almost half of the front page of Friday's edition shows one of the photographs of the naked Prince in a hotel room in Las Vegas where he was on holiday.

Previous reports across the British media have quoted "a royal source" as saying the pictures show the Prince "letting off steam over the weekend before he returns to the next phase of his military duties."

The Sun's managing editor David Dinsmore told the media here that the newspaper's editorial team thought "long and hard" about whether to print the pictures, and had reached the decision that it was a matter of press freedom.

In a video on The Sun's website he said: "We’ve thought long and hard about this. The Sun is a responsible paper and it works closely with the Royal family. We take heed of their wishes.

We’re also big fans of Prince Harry, he does a huge amount of work for this country and for the military and for the image of both of those institutions.

We are not against him letting his hair down once in a while. For us this is about the freedom of the Press.

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 favorite paper read by eight million people every day."

A St James's Palace spokesman told ITN news that it has made the royal's view on Prince Harry's privacy known.

"Newspapers regulate themselves, so the publication of the photographs is ultimately a decision for editors to make," a St James's Palace spokesman told the independent news site.

The famously or infamously – depending on standpoint -- sensationalist News International-owned theSun tabloid had previously opted to restage the photograph of the third in line for the throne covering his private parts with his hands, as he stands in front of an unidentified woman, just yesterday.

The tabloid, currently still embroiled in the ongoing phone-hacking scandal, put a picture of their own Harry, reporter Harry Miller, on the front as a stand-in with the screaming headline: "Harry Grabs the Crown Jewels."

But after the debate raged all day Wednesday in the U.K. over whether or not the mainstream media should honor Palace requests to protect the Prince's privacy, the News International publication decided to push the real images out anyway.

The reticence of the British media is being tipped in some quarters as further evidence of the growing caution in the media in the wake of the Leveson inquiry into media ethics.

The Leveson inquiry was set up to look into the relationships between the media and its constituents in light of the phone-hacking scandal that continues to engulf Murdoch's News Corp. subsidiaries.

With The Sun editor Dominic Mohan currently on annual leave, there is now speculation that the decision to print the pictures in the tabloid came from the top: Murdoch himself.

Industry insiders point to it being just the type of story a more mischievous minded Murdoch would almost certainly endorse.

Giving evidence to Leveson, Murdoch said he felt strongly that celebrities, politicians and figures that push themselves into the public eye should be held to account in his newspapers.

Chat shows on the radio and television in the U.K. are still alive with the debate surrounding media intrusion, Prince Harry's role as a royal ambassador, army officer and his right to privacy.

On Wednesday, TMZ published cell-phone images snapped by people at a party in the Prince's Vegas suite after what the celebrity news site called a game of strip billiards.