Tabloid The Sun on Friday became the first mainstream British newspaper to publish photographs of a vacationing Prince Harry in the nude.
The pictures of the prince, showing him naked in a hotel suite while he was on vacation last week in Las Vegas, were widely available on the Internet after website TMZ published them Tuesday. But British newspapers initially declined to publish them.
The Sun's front page, headlined "Heir it is!" - a play on Harry's status as third in line to the throne - shows the 27-year-old prince naked except for a watch and necklace, protecting his modesty with his cupped hands.
The newspaper defends its decision to go ahead with publishing the image as being in the interests of a free press. "The Sun is NOT making any moral judgement about Harry's nude frolics with girls in a Las Vegas hotel. Far from it. He often sails close to the wind for a Royal - but he's 27, single and a soldier. We like him," the story reads.
"We are publishing the photos because we think Sun readers have a right to see them." There is "a clear public interest" in making the image available to everyone, regardless of whether they have internet access, so they can join the debate on his behavior, the newspaper argues. The tabloid is Britain's biggest daily paper in terms of circulation.
Royal officials had urged the UK media not to breach the prince's privacy by publishing the pictures. A spokeswoman for St. James' Palace said editors are at liberty to make their own decisions.
"We have made our views on Prince Harry's privacy known. Newspaper regulate themselves, so the publication of the photographs is ultimately a decision for editors to make," the palace said. "We have no further comment to make, either on the publication of the photos or on the story itself, concerning Prince Harry's private holiday in Las Vegas."
David Dinsmore, managing editor of The Sun, said Thursday that his group "thought long and hard about this," but ultimately decided to publish the images because news consumers could access them elsewhere.
"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 8 million people every day," he said. Dinsmore also said that The Sun is "a responsible paper and it works closely with the royal family" and that "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," Dinsmore said. "We are not against him letting his hair down once in a while. For us, this is about the freedom of the press."