Can the right to freedom of expression justify the reporting about Monaco’s reigning monarch’s illegitimate child?

By Dirk Voorhoof

Today, the Grand Chamber of the ECtHR held a hearing in the case of Couderc and Hachette Filipacchi Associés v. France (App. no. 40454/07). The hearing is webcasted and can be viewed on the Court’s website, here. The case concerns the right of privacy and reputation of Monaco’s reigning monarch conflicting with the right to freedom of expression of the French magazine Paris-Match.

Years after French, German and English media revealed that Monaco’s reigning monarch, Prince Albert II, had a child born outside marriage, the European Court needs to decide now whether the measures taken against the French magazine Paris-Match are to be considered interferences violating the right to freedom of expression. The case started when the child’s mother, Ms C, gave interviews to the media saying that she was living in the prince’s Paris apartment and that she received an allowance from him, as being the mother of his illegitimate child. French, German and English media published the interviews along with photographs showing the child as well as Prince Albert. He sued Paris-Match for invasion of privacy, and the French courts considered that the article and the accompanying pictures in Paris-Match came within the most intimate sphere of the Prince’s emotional and family life and were not apt to be the subject of any debate of general interest. According to the French courts the article and pictures in Paris-Match had caused irreversible damage to the Prince, as the fact that he was the child’s father, which had remained secret until publication of the article, had suddenly become public knowledge, against his wishes. Prince Albert II was awarded 50,000 euros (EUR) in damages and Paris-Match was ordered to print details of the judgment on its front cover. In the meantime the Prince had issued a statement in which he publicly acknowledged that the child was his.

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