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EU Court Sides With Press in Expose of Royal

(CN) - A French magazine's right to run a story about Prince Albert of Monaco's secret love child trumps the royal's right to privacy, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled.

The prince sued Paris Match, its publisher Hachette Filipacchi Associes and its publication director in 2005, after the magazine ran a story that the royal had secretly fathered a child with an Air France flight attendant.

Although the prince acknowledged the child was his son, a French court awarded him $54,000 in damages for invasion of privacy and ordered Paris Match to publish the details of the judgment on its entire front cover.

An appeals court upheld the damages, finding that the magazine had irreversibly damaged Prince Albert's reputation, and modified the publication order to take up only a third of the magazine's front cover without a headline.

The magazine took its case to the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled on Nov. 10 that the French courts' rulings violated the magazine's right to expression as defined by the European Convention on Human Rights.

While the human rights court acknowledged that the article contained details of Prince Albert's private life that fell outside what could be called public interest, the prince's role as a public figure, his admission that the child was his and the creation of a legal parent-child relationship made the story a newsworthy event.

Furthermore, the court said the fact that Prince Albert was at the time was single and - as far as his subjects knew - childless gave the Paris Match story an even greater public-interest element, given the prince's first son was illegitimate and not an heir to the throne.

And Prince Albert's behavior toward the child's mother, by refusing to acknowledge the child was his, could be seen as providing important insights into the character of the man who had just assumed control of Monaco's throne, the court said.

The French courts should have examined these aspects in weighing the prince's right to privacy against the magazine's right to express - and should have found the magazine's right trumped the prince's, according to the human rights court.

Paris Match did not ask for damages, but the court did award them $16,000 for attorney fees and court costs.

Although the child, now 12 years old, cannot accede to the throne under Monegasque law because he is illegitimate, Prince Albert and his wife had twins in 2014 and both are in line for the throne.

The prince also has a daughter by a California woman who filed a paternity suit in Riverside County court in 1992. A judge dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction a year later, and in 2006 a paternity test proved Prince Albert is the girl's father.

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