French premier Francois Hollande has been making waves in the French tabloids recently, not for his policies, but for his alleged affair with actress Julia Gayet. The magazine Closer, owned by Silvio Berlusconi, owner of Mondadori, which, if you remember published the photos of a topless Kate Middleton, claimed to have caught a midnight dalliance that involved Mr Hollande and Ms. Gayet arriving at an apartment in Paris and not leaving until the morning. The photos were given pride of place in a 7 page spread in the magazine. The report went viral within seconds.
Although Mr Hollande’s legal team could not stop the paper publication going out, they caused enough of a furore to have the photos and articles removed from the Closer website. Mr Hollande’s camp are still said to be considering legal action under France’s tough privacy laws.
The obvious point is how does Mr Hollande’s case differ from that of Kate Middleton’s? The alleged offending photos show a man in a helmet, Ms. Middleton’s photos show her sun bathing topless – a much more obvious and graphic breach of privacy – and yet following some sabre rattling from Mr Hollande’s team the photos were immediately removed. The fact that both sets of photos were published by the same publishing group is further irony and a smack in the face to the British Royal Family. If anything Ms. Middleton’s photos should have been taken down, because they were so obviously private, and Mr Hollande’s should have remained online, as they were less private and the French public have an obvious interest in the actions of their President. Instead we find ourselves at polar opposites!!
The French legal system concerning invasion of privacy is in fact one of the harshest in the world – with financial penalties and even prison sentences imposed on newspaper editors who expose the private lives of citizens. One could naturally assume that because the photos concerned the current French President, Closer France were more open to removing the photos – pure speculation on our part – however with the internet playing such a major role in the reportage of ‘news’ and information, simply removing the images from Closer’s website is not enough. The images would have spread all across the globe via a whole host of other sites, social networks and blogs. The might of the French laws on privacy are definitely waning now as the protection they once provided no longer holds true.
But it will be interesting to see whether Mr Hollande pursues the case, and if so, even more interesting to see what Closer do about it.
What is clear however, is that there is now no place to hide for those in the public eye and in positions of responsibility. Privacy laws may provide some reprieve – but pictures, especially those online, speak volumes and spread like wildfire!
Head of Internet and Media Law