The Finnish National Conciliator arrived home late at night with his girlfriend, apparently not hindered by the fact that his wife, who was not amused, was also living in the same house. There was a fight: the National Conciliator and his female friend against the wife. The son of the house also received some blows (given by the female friend). The National Conciliator and his female friend were arrested and later convicted.
The Finnish magazine 7-päviää wrote about this fight and published photographs and the full name of the female friend (who, as the magazine revealed, also appeared to be dancing the samba with yet another man). Was this allowed? Or was this an unlawful invasion of the privacy of the female friend? In criminal proceedings the Finnish Court convicted the magazine. In the end, the matter was submitted to the European Court of Human Rights.
In a judgment of 6 April 2010 the Court pointed out that although the articles were written in a gossip-like manner, it nevertheless concerned a matter of general interest, namely the conviction of the girlfriend and the scandal in which a senior government official was involved. And although the girlfriend was not a public person, her friend actually was. Moreover, by getting involved in a ‘public disturbance‘ outside the family home of a public figure, the female friend had also entered the public domain. Moreover, 7-päviää had not been the first to reveal the identity of the girlfriend in this affair. The Court ruled that the conviction of the magazine constitutes an unlawful restriction of the freedom of expression.
This is bad news for the extramarital affairs of politicians and other public figures, for whom this judgment has made it a little harder to keep the paparazzi out of their way. Especially when this kind of affairs is newsworthy, for instance when the male or female friend beats people up, but maybe also when the lover is a subordinate of the public figure, a situation which recently led to a political scandal in The Netherlands…
It is furthermore interesting that this judgment confirms that the freedom of speech also protects the tabloid press, even if, in the margin of a newsworthy affair, it mentions who is dancing the samba with whom. Writing about matters of general interest is also allowed in a gossip-like manner.