Palace files new call for restraint

Officials at the Royal Palace in Oslo insist neither they nor the royal family themselves are trying to control media coverage, but they’re not backing down on their formal complaint against celebrity magazine “Se og Hør.” The palace has now filed a rebuttal to the magazine’s defense of its own coverage, calling it a “grave over-simplification” of the issues in dispute.

Officials at the Royal Palace aren't backing down from their complaint over magazine "Se og Hør's" coverage of the royal family's beach holiday at St Barts in the Caribbean. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Officials at the Royal Palace aren’t backing down from their complaint over magazine “Se og Hør’s” coverage of the royal family’s beach holiday at St Barts in the Caribbean. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

The palace’s initial and historic complaint filed with the press commission PFU (Pressens Faglige Utvalg) earlier this year was sparked by Se og Hør’s publication of photos taken of royal family members when they were on private holidays in public places or on private property. Se og Hør, in its response to the complaint, claimed that the main issue PFU needed to evaluate was whether the royal family should have expected that they were in areas where there was a strong probability that they’d be photographed.

The palace’s new tilsvar (filing of response), signed by the palace chief of staff Åge Bernhard Grutle, contends that their complaint goes beyond that, and seeks clarification of what rights the royals have to a private life. The filing, published on the royal family’s own website on Thursday, also stresses that the original complaint still stands and that palace officials “look forward” to the clarification from PFU.

They also deny Se og Hør’s countercharge that the royals are trying to secure their own “strict direction” of media coverage. The press has a right to reveal matters worthy of criticism and “this of course also applies to coverage of events and activities where the royal family takes part,” Grutle wrote. “We stress that our goal with this complaint is not to secure the ‘strict media direction’ that Se og Hør implies. Our purpose with the complaint is to get PFU’s evaluation of whether the content and scope of photos used in the offending pieces are in line with good press practices.”

Se og Hør, in its defense of its use of the photos of the royals on holiday on exclusive but public beaches in Europe and at St Barts in the Caribbean, worried that the definition of the royals’ “private sphere” would be unduly expanded if PFU were to rule in favour of the palace officials. Grutle seemed to find that argument irrelevant, and disagreed that restraint would constitute a setback for the press’ freedom to cover royal affairs. He argued that coverage must be based on ethical rules, laws and whether events are in the public interest.

While Se og Hør clearly felt it was newsworthy and in the public interest to report on the royals’ holidays at expensive and exclusive destinations that attract many celebrities, palace officials believe the coverage violated the royals’ right to a private life and amounted to “pure entertainment” outside the bounds of legitimate public interest.

The palace also drew support from a commentary in newspaper Aftenposten that had chided Se of Hør’s coverage. Aftenposten, generally restrained in its own royal coverage, had written that it was “important” for PFU to “take a harder line” on professional standards than even the courts might in order to uphold its own authority and legitimacy.

Se og Hør has indicated it is fighting for the media’s right to run photos of royal family members without having to gain their permission when the photos are not in connection with official royal duties. The magazine suggested in its defense that palace staff only wants the media to cover the royals’ official program. Not true, claims Grutle in his 11-page rebuttal, repeating that the royals merely want PFU to evaluate at which point an article is of enough public interest that it can justify a weakening of the royals’ right to privacy.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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