The Sun newspaper's decision to print nude pictures of Prince Harry against the wishes of the royal family sends a message that it will fight tougher media regulation in the wake of Britain's phone hacking scandal.
Thursday's papers refrained from running the grainy snaps showing the third in line to the throne cavorting naked with friends in a Las Vegas hotel suite after royal officials contacted the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) media watchdog.
But the top-selling tabloid defied the request and published the pictures - already widely seen on the Internet - in tomorrow's paper, saying in a statement released today that its readers had a "right to see them.''
"The reasons for that go beyond this one story,'' explained the statement issued by the Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid.
Industry figures had put the media's hitherto reluctance down to the fallout from last year's phone-hacking scandal at Murdoch's News of the World, which sparked the judge-led Leveson Inquiry into press ethics.
The probe has left Britain's previously fearless newspapers wary of taking risks for fear of provoking a much tougher set of rules governing the media than the current system of self-regulation, they say.
Gary Horne, Journalism Course Director at London College of Communication, told AFP: "Before the Leveson Inquiry, the pictures would have been all over the tabloids.
"But most of the tabloid papers now are effectively running scared about upsetting anybody that's in power in the celebrity world, or the royal family.''
Neil Wallis, a former executive editor at the News of the World, said he would have printed the pictures before the Leveson Inquiry.
"The situation is fun - it's a good, classic newspaper situation,'' said Wallis.
"The problem is, in this post-Leveson era where newspapers are simply terrified of their own shadow, they daren't do things that most of the country, if they saw it in the newspaper, would think `that's a bit of a laugh'.''
After Murdoch closed the News of the World in July 2011 over revelations that its staff hacked into the voicemail messages of a murdered girl, judge Brian Leveson was charged with probing the culture of Britain's press.
He is due to publish his report - which will include recommendations on how the press should be regulated in future -by the end of 2012.
British tabloids have not been shy about publishing scoops on the royal family in the past.
In 2005, The Sun printed pictures of the then 20-year-old Harry wearing a Nazi uniform to a fancy dress party.
Horne said British editors had broken every commercial instinct by agreeing not to publish the latest pictures, which first appeared Wednesday on US gossip website TMZ before spreading virally online.
"The tabloids' only loyalty is to selling papers, ultimately,'' he said. "They're purely commercially driven. So even if it upsets their best mates, if it's going to sell a million copies then, so what?''
He added that the press were less afraid of legal action from Buckingham Palace than the possibility that printing the camera-phone snaps of army officer Harry, 27, could "antagonise Leveson while he's drawing up his report'',
But some newspapers complained that they had been gagged by the royal family.
The Daily Mail said lawyers for Harry's father Prince Charles had threatened legal action against British papers which published the photographs, even though they were freely available online, making "a mockery of our privacy laws.''
Guido Fawkes, the only major British blogger to publish the photos, said the ban illustrated "the threat to a free press in Britain''.
"The truth is the old media have been scared into submission by the Leveson Inquiry,'' the blog said.
"Nevertheless everyone in Britain will be searching online for these pictures and will find them regardless. The old rules won't work in the Internet age.''