20 Sep 2012

A right royal row

A year ago Kate Middleton luxuriated in the sound of pealing bells and a flowing wedding frock; now the Duchess of Cambridge - wearing slightly less - is battling the media in an unprecedented style for the British royal family

Futureflash/Shutterstock.com Futureflash/Shutterstock.com

Just when she thought it couldn’t get any worse, the Duchess of Cambridge faces fresh embarrassment.
In what may be an even greater assault on her privacy, the Swedish celebrity magazine Se och Hoer has published a three page spread of Kate, including one photograph that is variously reported as showing her ‘removing’ or ‘adjusting’ her bikini bottoms. A Danish sister publication is expected to go even further with a 14-page special section.
Those of us who have recently been on holiday to sunny climes, can imagine that the Duchess was simply checking her tan lines. At least that would be far preferable than suffering the indignity of having the world – or certain sections of it – see yet another royal derriere, hard on the heels of the exposures of Prince Harry.

Legal mishmash

As contagion of these images spreads across Europe – publications in Italy and Ireland have already followed the scoop by France’s Closer magazine -- it is increasingly evident that privacy laws across Europe vary significantly and that mish-mash of legislation is not sufficient to protect the privacy of this one young lady.
Although all these countries are signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights and therefore are required to comply with the article 8, which requires a respect for privacy, one publication after another is apparently calculating that the risk is worth taking -- that any damages payable if the royal couple takes action will be more than compensated for by increased sales revenue and the global publicity. Indeed, Closer is reported to have sold 25 per cent more copies than normal on the back of photos.

Reasonable expectations
Let’s not kid ourselves that these images have anything to do with free speech. What possible contribution would photographs of a naked Kate make to a debate of public interest? This is a decidedly clear-cut case -- the duchess was on the private terrace of a private villa set deep within acres of private land; she had a reasonable expectation of privacy; there is no public interest or other justification for the publication. These publications are as exploitative as they are unlawful.
In granting the injunction in France, the Nanterre court confirmed that ‘these snapshots, which showed the intimacy of a couple, partially naked on the terrace of a private home, surrounded by a park several hundred metres from a public road, and being able to legitimately assume that they are protected from passers-by, are by nature particularly intrusive’.

Global stage

But as technology advances, the media is able to push further and further into the private lives of those in the public eye. As a result of these advances – both in technology and into private lives – those preyed on need even more to be able from time to time to retreat into a private space. But unless reform is introduced, those in the public eye will be forced to play out the entirety of their lives – public role and private life – on a global stage.
In her privacy case heard in London’s High Court in 2005, the Canadian folk singer Loreena McKennitt told the judge how she ‘valued what privacy was left to her more and more as the demands of fame and publicity encroached upon her’. Ms McKennitt drew the analogy of an animal living within an ever diminishing area surrounded by deforestation.
We should know by now that we are destroying the world’s rain forests, yet we do little to stop the devastation. It is time that we woke up to the equally damaging effect on society that will ultimately be wrought by allowing, unfettered, the worst excesses of an irresponsible press.

Withers trainee Caroline Thompson also contributed to this article

Email your news and story ideas to: news@globallegalpost.com