Why Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's Royal Exit Could Trigger "Open Season" With Media

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Prince Harry, Meghan Markle and Archie

The U.K.'s tabloid press may be blamed for the couple's move, but will things get any better for them on the outside?

The shock decision by Prince Harry and Meghan Markle to step down as senior members of the U.K.’s royal family sparked an almost immediate reaction among commentators as to who was to blame, with the finger mostly pointing in once direction: the British media.

The deteriorating relationship between the royals and the U.K.’s notorious tabloid press has been a well-documented affair, with Prince Harry and Markle the source of relentless speculation and scrutiny, much of it focused on the actress-turned-duchess (The Daily Mail devoted 17 pages Thursday to the "Royal Rogues").

Markle announced last year that she was suing the Mail on Sunday over an allegation that it unlawfully published a private letter she sent to her estranged father. Around the same time, Prince Harry accused British tabloids of launching a “ruthless” campaign against his wife.

However, if the decision-making process behind what has been dubbed “Megxit” was indeed to try to escape such persistent media attention, then it might not be so easy.

“I think it’ll go the other way,” Paul Tweed, a noted U.K.-based media lawyer who has represented the likes of Britney Spears, Johnny Depp and Jennifer Lopez, tells The Hollywood Reporter. “It’s basically a petrol on fire situation in the short run.”

Tweed points to Sarah Ferguson, the ex-wife of Prince Andrew, who became tabloid fodder after the two divorced in 1996.

“When she left the royal fold, it was basically open season and it has been ever since,” he says. 

In unshackling themselves from the royal family, Duke and Duchess would lose the protection that it offers, Tweed says.

“There is a certain aura of protection around the royal family. It has been diminished dramatically, obviously because of Prince Andrew and various other factors in the last couple of years. But nonetheless, it is still there, and that sort of media security ring I would have thought is useful in the bad times."

On the legal side of the coin, sources have suggested to THR that a move to the U.S. (the royals have stated they will split their time 50-50 between North America and the U.K.), would give them greater scope to launch lawsuits against the media, with the pair being outside the the somewhat restrictive confines of the royal family and freer to act on their own accord. 

However, they might actually find themselves more restricted in terms of litigation, especially if Harry seeks U.S. or dual citizenship. 

The Speech Act was introduced by President Obama in 2010 to prevent "libel tourism," stopping U.S. citizens from circumventing tight freedom of speech laws by suing American individuals or countries outside the U.S. Were Harry to become a U.S. or even a dual U.S./U.K. citizen, he would be bound by this Act, meaning he couldn't seek legal action against the likes of the NY Post or National Enquirer in overseas jurisdictions, which he is currently able to do. 

"As Harry is likely to be more in the crosshairs of American tabloids, who will have First Amendment protections, this is likely to be an issue for him going forward," claims Tweed.

But one potential option now open to both Harry and Markle is that they're free to actually give evidence themselves in court, something members of the royal family have largely been discouraged from doing, meaning their current legal cases could be resolved.

Says Tweed: "The defendants may now sit up a bit, because up until now they may have been thinking they're not going to go through with it in terms of giving evidence, because of the pressure put on them from the palace."