In 1995 the Spanish newspaper Diario 16 reported on the discovery of almost 5000 kilos of hashish in the false bottom of a lorry of the “Domaines Royaux” company, which belongs to the Moroccan Royal Family. The headline read “A family company belonging to Hassan II implicated in drug trafficking.” In Spain, all courts up to the Constitutional Court ruled that this was an illegal interference with the “droit fondamental au respect de l’honneur” of the King of Morocco. The newspaper was sentenced to pay compensation not only because of the headlines but also because of the omission of certain details regarding pending legal proceedings about the drugs case, which had led to the conviction of three persons who had no relationship with the Royal Family.
This court order against the Spanish paper violates the freedom of expression set out in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the European Court of Human Rights recently ruled in Gutiérrez Suarez against Spain (in French; an unofficial English translation can be found here). The public has the right to be informed of drug trafficking in which the Moroccan Royal Family appeared to be involved, also if at first sight this has no effect on the exercise of the political functions of the family.
The court noted that the correctness of the facts was not disputed in the Spanish proceedings. The media are free to choose in which way they report about an incident. It was not the task of the Court of Justice, or that of the domestic courts, to interfere with the editorial freedom and to determine which journalistic techniques should be used. The headlines do not alter this opinion, as they should be read in conjunction with the body of the article.