The Dutch royal family of Crown Prince Willem-Alexander has prevailed in its suit against the Associated Press for taking pictures of them on vacation in Argentina. In Italy, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is suing the media for the coverage of his private life. Both cases turn on the right to privacy of public officials and public figures.
What is most striking about the decision of the Dutch court is that the court sided with the media in rejecting a new “media code” imposed by the government that prevents such intrusions. However, the court still ruled that the pictures were violations of the privacy expectations of the family. Judge Sjoukje Rullmann ruled that “the right to respect the personal sphere weighs more heavily than the right to freedom of expression in publishing these four photos.” The judge continued:
Plaintiffs must, as public figures fulfilling a constitutional function, endure attention from the media, even when they are appearing in private and especially when they appear in a public place. However this does not mean that the plaintiffs, when they appear in private, should always have to be alert that photos made in that situation can be offered to the media for publication.”
That ruling could have a significant impact upon media and lacks any full explanation of the limits on such reporting. For example, was the coverage of Gary Hart a violation of privacy?
For the Dutch story, click here.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has long had a poor relationship with the media due to his gaffes and penchant for young women, here. He is now suing media in Italy, Britain, France, and Spain for libel and breach of his privacy.
For example, he sued the French weekly Nouvel Observateur for a story headlined “Sex, Power and Lies” and Spain’s El Pais for publishing photos of guests at the billionaire premier’s Sardinian villa cavorting naked, including pictures of a naked former Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek.
In the United States, the right to privacy includes a tort for the publication of embarrassing private facts and the inclusion upon seclusion. For former as an exception for matters of public interest while the latter does not. However, appearances that can be photographed without trespass are generally exempted from such liability.
Celebrities have prevailed on enforcing nondisclosure agreements. Celebrities tend to do better abroad in such claims, as in the ruling in favor of Canadian Celtic singer Loreena McKennitt and author JK. Rowlings’ win over photographs of her son.
For the Italian story, click here..