(CN) – A German judge’s order barring photojournalists from showing the face of a young man on trial for the murders of his parents did not violate the reporters’ freedom of expression, the European Court of Human Rights ruled Thursday.
During criminal proceedings against S., the German judge told journalists working the case that any photos of the young man that were published needed to be altered to obscure his face. The judge also told the reporters that anyone who violated his order would be permanently barred from taking photos at any proceedings, in any courtroom.
A few days later, the judge issued a written order to all journalists planning to cover the case that only those who registered with the court and agreed in writing to abide by his rule to obscure S.’s face could take photos during the proceedings. He noted S.’s privacy rights and that the young man had expressly asked to have his identity concealed, and said both outweighed the public’s right to be informed.
Publishing house Axel Springer and TV network RTL filed an objection asking for a suspension of the judge’s order, pointing out S. had confessed to the crime on the opening day of trial. The judge refused and Germany’s constitutional court declined to take up the matter – leading the media outlets to lodge a complaint with the EU rights court.
But on Thursday, the 7-judge panel unanimously found no rights violation. The panel noted the German judge did not ban cameras in the courtroom or keep the reporters from reporting the facts of the case.
Instead, the judge balanced the interests of the public, the press and S. and tailored an order that both conformed to German law and satisfied the human rights convention, the panel said.
“The order was proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued as the presiding judge chose the least restrictive of several possible measures,” the rights court panel wrote. “Consequently, the court concludes that the interference with the applicant companies’ right to freedom of expression was ‘necessary in a democratic society.’”