For the third time in less than ten years Caroline von Hannover – Princess of Monaco – took Germany to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). Time and again she complains of insufficient protection from obtrusive paparazzi in Germany. After her important victory in 2004 and the denial of her complaint in 2011, Von Hannover’s complaint has been denied once again (ruling published in French only).
What was this case about? Another holiday picture, which was published in March 2002 in the German magazine 7 Tage, showing Caroline and her husband at their holiday address. According to Caroline, the publication of this picture was an unacceptable violation of her right to a private life. Besides the picture 7 Tage also published a number of pictures of the Von Hannover’s’ holiday villa on a Kenyan island. The headline to the article said: “Sleeping in Princess Caroline’s bed? It is a dream out of reach. Caroline and Ernst August rent out their dream villa.” The article was about the trend that more and more Hollywood stars and other celebrities rent out their holiday homes to paying guests. In times of crisis, the rich and famous are watching their pennies too.
The key question in these proceedings was whether the media are allowed to bring such entertainment news, or whether it constituted an unacceptable violation of Caroline’s right to respect for her private life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
According to the ECtHR, the German Constitutional Court rightly held that the article did contribute – at least to a certain extent – to a debate of general interest. The German Court based this opinion on the fact that the article “pouvait donner lieu à des réflexions de la part des lecteur“. In other words, it could lead to readers reflecting. This is a rather broad interpretation of the “debate of general interest” criterion.
Furthermore, the ECtHR pointed out that the article contained hardly any private information about Caroline and was mostly limited to practical aspects of the villa and the location. Further, the picture of the couple was of a modest size and Caroline had not alleged that it had been taken stealthily.
The Court points out again that the Von Hannovers are public figures and can therefore not count on the same protection of their individual privacy as ordinary citizens: “la requérante et son mari devaient être considérés comme des personnes publiques … qui ne peuvent pas prétendre de la même manière à une protection de leur droit à la vie privée que des personnes privées inconnues du public“.
All in all, the German Court could rightly judge that Von Hannover’s rights under Article 8 had not been violated unacceptably and that the publication in 7 Tage was not unlawful.
This third ruling in the Von Hannover trilogy seems to be the least important. However, it is clear that the ECtHR proceeds on the road it took in Von Hannover II, in which the (entertainment) press was given some more leeway. The present ruling confirms that the question as to whether a publication contributes to a “debate of general interest” (which, incidentally, is not the decisive criterion, but an essential criterion, as Von Hannover II teaches us) deserves a very broad interpretation. In Von Hannover II the ECtHR held that the suggestion that Caroline did not really care about her father because she was enjoying her holidays while her sister Stephanie was supporting their sick father in Monaco fulfilled this criterion. In Von Hannover III, the mere fact that an article on celebrities who rent out their holiday house may make readers think was sufficient.
More about the Von Hannover I and II rulings can be found here on Media Report.