Right to report on celebrities upheld in certain cases


EUROPEAN human-rights judges have upheld the right of the media to report on the private lives of celebrities in certain circumstances. In two rulings yesterday, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg said such coverage was acceptable if it was in the general interest and in reasonable balance with the right for respect to private life.

The court found the right to freedom of expression of the German tabloid Bildwas violated when it was penalised in the German courts for publishing stories about an actor’s arrest and conviction on drug charges.

It also dismissed a complaint by Princess Caroline of Monaco over the publication of photos of her and her husband on a ski holiday alongside an article dealing with the poor health of her ailing father, Prince Rainier, who died in 2005.

Bildreported on its front page in 2004 that a well-known actor – known as X in court documents – had been arrested in a tent at the Munich beer festival for possessing cocaine. It reported his conviction and fine the following year.

On foot of complaints by the actor, the Hamburg courts and a German federal court prohibited any further publication of these articles and the federal constitutional court declined to consider appeals lodged by Bild’s publisher, Axel Springer.

In its ruling on the case, the Strasbourg court said the sanctions imposed on Axel Springer “were capable of having a chilling effect” on the company.

The court noted that the articles concerned public judicial facts of which the public had an interest in being informed.

The court considered that X was sufficiently well known to qualify as a public figure, which reinforced the public’s interest in being informed of his arrest and the proceedings against him.

“The court noted, moreover, that the articles had not revealed details about the actor’s private life, but had mainly concerned the circumstances of his arrest and the outcome of the criminal proceedings against him,” it said.

“The actor’s expectation that his private life would be effectively protected had furthermore been reduced by the fact that he had previously revealed details about his private life in a number of interviews.”

In her action, Princess Caroline of Monaco complained against the refusal of the German courts to prohibit any further publication of the holiday photos. The Strasbourg court ruled that there was no violation of her right to respect for private and family life.

The court said it could accept that the photo – in the context of the article – did, “at least to some degree”, contribute to a debate of general interest.

“The German courts’ characterisation of Prince Rainier’s illness as an event of contemporary society could not be considered unreasonable.”