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Wednesday, July 17, 2024 | Back issues
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European Court Defends Celebrity Journalism

(CN) - German media outlets should not have been restrained from reporting on the cocaine arrest of a crime drama actor and publishing vacation photographs of Princess Caroline von Hannover of Monaco, the European Court of Human Rights ruled.

A Hamburg court slapped Axel Springer AG, publisher of the conservative tabloid Bild, with an injunction after it reported on the September 2004 cocaine arrest of an actor known for playing a police superintendent in a popular TV series.

Bild reported that the actor, identified only as "X" by the court, was nabbed inside a tent at a Munich beer festival, and got a suspended prison sentence in a separate 2000 drug arrest.

In 2005, Bild published a follow-up article reporting that X was convicted and charged following a full confession.

Months later, a regional court in Hamburg ordered Axel Springer AG to pay X a fine and prohibited its future publication, in a decision upheld in two higher courts and rebuked by the European Court of Human Rights.

"While the sanctions imposed on Springer had been lenient, they were capable of having a chilling effect on the company," a press release about the decision stated. "The Court concluded that the restrictions imposed on the company had not been reasonably proportionate to the legitimate aim of protecting the actor's private life. There had accordingly been a violation of Article 10."

Five of the 18 judges filed a separate dissent.

The second half of the decision focused on Princess Caroline von Hannover of Monaco, who vigorously fought newspapers and magazines publishing her images since in the early 1990s.

Starting in 2002, von Hannover sought an injunction against German women's magazines Frau Im Spiegel and Frau Aktuell to prevent them from publishing pictures of her St. Moritz ski trip with her husband, Prince Ernst August.

The princess' bid was less in Germany.

"The Federal Court found that the reigning prince's poor health was a subject of general interest and that the press had been entitled to report on the manner in which his children reconciled their obligations of family solidarity with the legitimate needs of their private life, among which was the desire to go on holiday," the court's press release states. "In a judgment of 26 February 2008, the Federal Constitutional Court dismissed Princess Caroline's constitutional complaint, rejecting in particular the allegation that the German courts had disregarded or taken insufficient account of the Court's case-law." After the court declined to hear related complaints on June 16, 2008, von Hannover complained to the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled in favor of the media companies today (Tuesday).

"In conclusion, the German courts had carefully balanced the right of the publishing companies to freedom of expression against the right of the applicants to respect for their private life," the court's press release states.

Germany must pay Axel Springer AG more than $65,000 in pecuniary and compensatory damages, and owes no money to von Hannover.

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