The direct, personal decision by Rupert Murdoch to fly in the face of the rules that are supposed to circumscribe newspaper editors and publish the unfortunate pictures of Price Harry in flagrante is an act of both political calculation and of defiance.
The Murdoch Empire is not merely on the back foot, it is in the dock, both of law and of public opinion. Murdoch now resorts to twitter to apply the whip to the nag of the British body politic, but his newspapers retain the power that they had before the hacking scandal virtually intact. Indeed, the arrogant and high handed culture that led to the wreck of the News of the World remains untouched- as this latest 10 day wonder shows.
Murdoch knows that the publication is a clear breach of the PCC editors code, but he has decided to run the story to remind the politicians of the power that he has. It is not just Prince Harry who has unfortunate or compromising stories in the Sun Editor's desk.
However, I think that the Dirty Digger may have- not for the first time- misjudged the public mood. The fact is that a clear majority in polls have not supported the publication by The Sun. Of course it is an act of public hypocrisy, bearing in mind that a substantial number of people have already searched for and found the pictures on the Internet. Yet there is a big difference in the public mind between finding stuff online and having it delivered through your front door. The fact is that a large number of people believe that the wayward Prince is entitled to his privacy, as long as they can find out what naughty fun he has been up to. What happens in Vegas should at least stay online. Murdoch, by over ruling his editors and breaching the code, has made a point of major significance to Leveson: How do you stop me?
Yet he has over reached himself. Jeremy Hunt may have been all smiles when he met Murdoch at Wimbledon (a rather ill advised meeting for both parties, one might have thought), but the old rogue has underlined just how malevolent an influence he is. He may have thought that by proving his power, he was sending a message prohibition on action against him by the British political class, in fact he may have merely underlined the need for his total expulsion form the British body politic.
The trial of the News International executives and journalists will be as sensational as any over the past decade, and should any turn against their former proprietor, as they may, it will be fatal to the Murdoch Empire.
This act of spite and defiance is more likely to hasten that ending. I predict that Leveson will be damning and that at last this malign, poisonous influence on British politics will finally have run its course.