Court ruling set to affect UK media coverage of celebrities

Max Mosley: a prominent campaigner for increased privacy for public individuals. Picture: Getty
Max Mosley: a prominent campaigner for increased privacy for public individuals. Picture: Getty
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HUMAN rights judges have ruled that media coverage of celebrities private lives is “acceptable if in the general interest and if in reasonable balance with the right to respect for private life”.

The judgement came today at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

It upheld a challenge by German newspaper Bild against a television star’s legal injunction preventing reporting about his arrest and conviction on drugs offences.

The same court rejected a separate claim by Princess Caroline von Hannover against a German magazine which published photos of her alongside an article speculating about the health of her ailing father Prince Rainier III of Monaco.

The rulings, which could affect UK privacy laws, set out the balance between freedom of speech and respect to private life, both guaranteed by the European Human Rights Convention.

The publishers of Bild, Axel Springer AG, launched a human rights case after the German television actor - called X in court documents - won an injunction following a front-page article about his arrest at the Munich beer festival for possession of cocaine.

The article included photos and revealed that the actor, who had starred as a police superintendent in a popular TV series since 1998, had previously received a suspended prison sentence for possession of drugs.

The Hamburg Regional Court said the right to protect X’s privacy prevailed over the public interest in being informed, even if the facts in the article were not disputed.

The German judges said the story did not involve a serious offence and there was no particular public interest in knowing about it.

The paper later published another article reporting on X being convicted and fined for illegal possession of drugs after making a full confession.

Again, the judges granted an injunction blocking further reporting. All appeals by Bild to higher German courts failed, and the Federal Constitutional Court refused to hear a constitutional case.

Today, the Human Rights judges said in a majority verdict that the injunctions amounted to a breach of the newspaper’s right to freedom of expression under the Human Rights Convention.

The Human Rights judges said they accepted the German court’s view that Bild’s interest in publishing the article was “solely due precisely to the fact that it was a well-known actor who had committed an offence - which would not have been reported on if committed by a person unknown to the public”.

But, said the Human Rights ruling, the actor had been arrested in public at the Munich beer festival and his expectation of privacy had been further reduced by the fact that he had previously revealed details about his private life in a number of interviews.

In addition, the facts of the case were undisputed and related not to his private life but a public arrest on a drugs charge.

The judges awarded Axel Springer damages of 17,735 euros (£14,715) and 32,522 euros (£26,985) in costs and expenses.