LONDON — Media mogul Rupert Murdoch came to the defence of Britain’s Prince Harry on Sunday, urging critics to “give him a break” over photographs of him frolicking naked in a Las Vegas hotel suite.
Australian-born Murdoch posted a message of support on his Twitter page after The Sun, his top-selling British tabloid, printed the images of 27-year-old Harry in defiance of orders from the royal family.
“Prince Harry. Give him a break,” wrote Murdoch, 81. “He may be on the public payroll one way or another, but the public loves him, even to enjoy Las Vegas.”
The images of the third in line to the throne, cavorting nude with a mystery woman during a game of “strip billiards”, first surfaced Wednesday on the US gossip website TMZ before going viral on the Internet.
The Sun initially respected the royal family’s request that British newspapers did not print the grainy camera-phone images, but broke ranks on Friday, claiming it did so in defence of press freedom.
The newspaper said it was “ludicrous” that the British press were not allowed to print images that had already been seen by hundreds of millions of people on the Internet.
Britain’s media watchdog, the Press Complaints Commission, has received more than 850 complaints about The Sun’s publication of the photos.
A YouGov poll published in The Sunday Times newspaper found that some 68 percent of Britons thought Harry’s behaviour was acceptable for a young single man on a private holiday.
Some 75 percent still had a positive view of Harry, an army officer who has served in Afghanistan and is now a trained Apache helicopter pilot.
And 61 percent thought The Sun was wrong to print the images, with only 25 percent supporting the tabloid’s decision.
Britain’s culture minister Jeremy Hunt — who faced calls to resign in April over his closeness to Murdoch executives — said he did not accept The Sun’s justification for publishing the photos.
“Personally I cannot see what the public interest was in publishing those,” Hunt told BBC television.
“But we have a free press and I don’t think it is right for politicians to tell newspaper editors what they can and cannot publish.”