Monday, February 13, 2012

European Court Backs Press in Two Privacy Cases

HILDESHEIM, GERMANY - JANUARY 13:  Princess Ca...Image by Getty Images via @daylife
The European Court of Human Rights' Grand Chamber ("ECHR") last week sided with the news media in two crucial invasion of privacy cases involving German television star Axel Springer and Princess Caroline of Monaco.

As chronicled by the always informative Inforrm's Blog (  and the RPC Privacy Blog (, the ECHR found that reporting about the private lives of public figures, absent wrongdoing by the press, was in the public interest. The ECHR Grand Chamber in a 12-5 vote concerning Axel Springer v. Germany (App. No. 39954/08) found German tabloid Bild was entitled to "just satisfaction covering the damages and costs it had to pay in the domestic proceedings and in Strasbourg" for violation of its freedom of expression rights under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Article 10 states:

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.
2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.

German courts had imposed an injunction on the publication of photos and images concerning the September 2004,  public arrest of Springer in a tent at the Munich Beer Festival for alleged cocaine use, but the ECHR said the incident was a matter of general public interest. The von Hannover case concerned efforts by Princess Caroline of Monaco to prevent publication of photos of her and her husband Prince Rainier on a ski vacation in St. Moritz in 2002.

The photo of the royals accompanied an article about Prince Rainier's declining health. The ECHR said the photos were inoffensive and not surreptitiously obtained and the article was a matter of general interest. Princess Caroline's seeking an injunction to halt publication of the photos on privacy grounds involved Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which states:
1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

That both cases involved public figures tilted the odds in the news media's favor on the Grand Chamber's balancing of freedom of expression against the reasonable expectation of privacy.

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