Independent Newspapers has launched an investigation into the decision to publish topless photographs of Kate Middleton in the Irish Daily Star.
It also said the threat by co-owner Richard Desmond to close the newspaper was “disproportionate”.
Lawyers for Kate Middleton are to appear in court in Paris this morning to stop further publication of topless shots of the duchess.
Following widespread condemnation of the decision by the French magazine Closer and the Irish Daily Star to publish the pictures, the royals’ lawyers will attempt to block the publication of a 26-page spread in Italian gossip magazine Chi this week. The couple is also seeking damages.
In a statement last night Independent News & Media (INM), which jointly owns the Irish Daily Star with Mr Desmond’s Northern & Shell, said a call to close the tabloid, which employs more than 120 staff is disproportionate to a poor editorial decision that occurred without reference to either shareholder.
“INM believes that the circumstances that led to the regrettable decision by the Irish Daily Star to re-publish pages from the French magazine Closer warrant immediate investigation and steps are already under way in this regard,” it said.
The Irish Daily Star editor Michael O’Kane defended the decision to publish the topless pictures, saying Middleton was no different from Rihanna or Lady Gaga, and acknowledging he wanted to sell more newspapers.
Mr Desmond said he was taking immediate steps to end the partnership.
“I am very angry at the decision to publish these photographs and am taking immediate steps to close down the joint venture,” he said.
“The decision to publish these pictures has no justification whatever and Northern & Shell condemns it in the strongest possible terms.”
Mimi Turner, Northern & Shell’s communications director, said: “We abhor the decision of the Irish Daily Star to publish these intrusive pictures of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, which we, like St James’s Palace, believe to be a grotesque invasion of their privacy.”
“Northern & Shell is profoundly dismayed at the decision made by Irish Daily Star, which would never have been made by any of the newspapers or magazines under our editorial control.
“We consider all aspects of privacy very carefully, and would never condone this action. When the recent pictures of Prince Harry were made available to UK newspapers, even though that was a very different and more public situation, we felt there was no public interest in publishing those images. This is of course a far more distressing situation and while it has nothing to do with the Daily Star UK or any of Northern & Shell’s own newspapers, we very much regret the distress it has caused.”
The photographs, taken of the couple on holiday at Chateau d’Autet, near Aix-en-Provence, were originally published in France’s Closer magazine — which is run by a different company from the British version.
Italian gossip magazine Chi promised to follow suit with a 26-page edition next week.
The royals put on a brave face while visiting a rainforest in Borneo yesterday, as St James’s Palace condemned the decision to publish the images as motivated by greed and said the couple would sue Closer’s publishers.
It remains to be seen whether the action will dissuade Chi from publishing next week.
Both Chi and French Closer are published by the Mondadori media group, owned by former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.
Chi editor Alfonso Signorini said: “The fact that these are the future rulers of England makes the article more interesting and topical.
“This is a deserving topic because it shows in a completely natural way the daily life of a very famous, young and modern couple in love.”
Threat to close paper ‘not about the photos’
The head of the National Union of Journalists said the threat by the co-owners of the Irish Daily Star to have the paper closed down may be commercially motivated and not just because of anger at the decision to publish the topless photographs of Kate Midleton.
Seamus Dooley said he doesn’t accept that just because co-owner Richard Desmond disagrees with one editorial decision that 70 jobs should be put at risk: “Once you own a newspaper you have an obligation to your employees and it was not good enough to throw a hissy fit and frankly I don’t believe it is as simple as that.
“I believe that Mr Desmond is interested in protecting his reputation in the UK. He may well be looking for a reason to be out of Ireland but this isn’t the way to do it.
“On a regular basis editorial boards disagree with the editorial decision-making process. There is in this country a Press Council. There are mechanisms for dealing with what are perceived to be bad editorial decisions.”
Mr Dooley said it would be extremely difficult for the Irish Daily Star to survive without its UK partner. He said the financial position of parent company Independent News and Media is well known but also the content provided by their UK partner is important and on that basis it posses a serious threat to employment.
He said editorial independence is at the core of the row: “The thing about freedom of expression is that you may not always agree with individual editorial decisions but the notion that newspapers owners, what Murdoch did and now what the co-owner of the Star is doing — throwing the toys out of the pram and put jobs at risk — that’s no way to run a newspaper.”
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