European court upholds right to report celebrities

The Irish media’s right to report on celebrities has been supported by two potentially groundbreaking rulings at the European Court of Human Rights.

The ECHR rejected an invasion-of-privacy complaint by Monaco’s Princess Caroline and said an injunction preventing reporting German TV star arrest on cocaine charges was wrong.

The verdicts take immediate effect and set a benchmark for members of the 47-country Council of Europe.

Irish media law expert Richard Martin, a partner at Ronan, Daly, Jermyn, said the ECHR ruling was highly relevant to Irish media and makes it clear “that the celebrity cannot have it both ways”.

“They cannot court the media when it suits their objectives to do so and then reject the attention encouraged by that courtship when it doesn’t,” said Mr JMartin. “These decisions are highly relevant for the Irish media. We do not have privacy legislation in Ireland and the number of privacy cases coming before the Irish Courts are few. These decisions copperfasten the essential and highly valued and valuable role played by the press in a democratic society,” he said.

A spokesman for the National Newspapers of Ireland welcomed the two judgements and said that “in upholding the right to publish in both cases, the court clearly put strong emphasis on the important principle of freedom of expression”.

“We welcome the fact that the court, in the Princess Caroline case, put weight on the fact that the photographs had been taken in a public place and not in secret,” he added.

In both rulings, the court referred to the often tricky balance between the media’s right to expression and the individual’s right to privacy.

Princess Caroline and her husband, Prince Ernst August von Hanover, filed a complaint alleging that their privacy rights had been violated in Germany over the 2002 publication by Frau im Spiegel magazine of a photo of them on a skiing holiday — a time when her father, Prince Rainier, was ill.

A German court upheld the media’s right to report on how the royal family was coping with Rainier’s illness,.

The ECHR upheld that ruling, saying Caroline “had not provided any evidence that the photos had been taken in a climate of general harassment”.

The other ruling involved a Hamburg court’s injunction in 2005 to stop Axel Springer, the group behind the daily Bild, from publishing articles about a TV star who was arrested on charges of cocaine possession. A German federal court later upheld the injunction.

The ECHR said that the German courts violated the right of expression.

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