On 23 July 2009 the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) gave a judgment in a case that had been brought against France by Hachette Filipacchi Associés – the publisher of the French weekly ‘Ici Paris’. Ici Paris had published an article about the ever-popular French rock ‘n roll singer Johnny Hallyday. The article ‘What if he flops in Las Vegas? Panic stations, Johnny!’ referred to the supposed financial difficulties of the singer. The article was also illustrated by some photographs of advertising material for products with which Hallyday, whose real name is Jean-Philippe Smet, had allowed his name to be associated.
Hallyday did not agree with the publication and brought proceedings against the publishing company Hachette before the French court, claiming that the article had breached his right to respect for his private life. His claims were denied both in the first instance and on appeal. After all, Hallyday himself had publicly disclosed his financial situation and shopping behavior on numerous occasions. He had even published an autobiography in which he described his excessive expenses. However, the ‘Cour de Cassation’ quashed the decisions of the Court and the Court of Appeal, and referred the case back to the Cour d’Appèl de Versailles. This Court of Appeal ruled that Hachette had to pay Hallyday EUR 20,000 in damages, together with costs and expenses.
In Hachette’s opinion this judgment was an unacceptable infringement of its right to freedom of speech and Hachette took the case to the ECHR. The ECHR stated, among other things, that Hallyday’s personal disclosures about his lavish behavior to the public weakened the degree of protection to which he was entitled as regards his private life. Furthermore, although the statements in the article might have been experienced as negative by Hallyday, they were not so offensive and harmful as to overstep the boundaries of journalistic freedom. The ECHR therefore ruled that the right to freedom of speech had indeed been infringed. France was ordered to pay a total amount of EUR 36,000 to Hachette.
This judgment seems to be in accordance with Dutch standard case law in this field. The Dutch Supreme Court has ruled in the leading Hemelrijk/Van Gasteren judgment that the personal incitement of a public discussion may be a circumstance relevant to the assessment of whether the right to private life has been invaded.