Norway’s press complaints commission PFU (Pressens Faglige Utvalg) ruled both for and against a local magazine on Tuesday, after palace officials had complained on behalf of the royal family over its publication of photos the royals claimed were invasive. PFU claimed Se og Hør violated some press standards, but also claimed that the royals must expect to be photographed when they’re in public places, especially those that attract other celebrities and media attention.
The case has been called “historic” because it was the first time the Royal Palace filed such a lengthy and detailed press complaint with the commission. PFU leader Hilde Haugsgjerd, the editor of newspaper Aftenposten, also called the case “difficult,” and Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported disagreement between the commission and its secretariat and among commission members.
At issue was whether the weekly magazine Se og Hør violated acceptable press practice when it published several pages of photos taken without the royals’ knowledge at what they considered private family gatherings. Se og Hør editor Ellen Arnstad said she felt her magazine won on some points and will “of course respect” the commission’s criticism on other points. She told newspaper VG right after the PFU meeting, though, that some of PFU’s conclusions are “problematic” for the media regarding the rights of editors to determine coverage.
Most of the photos were taken with a telephoto lens during, for example, a private celebration of Queen Sonja’s 75th birthday last year and while the royals were on beach holidays in both Europe and the Caribbean. Portions of the palace’s complaint were disregarded because the allegedly offending stories and photos were too old. Others were more recent, including Se og Hør’s lengthy portrayal of Crown Prince Haakon and his family on a public beach at St Barts in the Caribbean, a place known for attracting celebrities and the international jet set.
While the magazine’s coverage was widely viewed as excessive, with the commission raising concerns about its presentation and alleged lack of regard for the royals, PFU also stated that the royal family “must expect to be photographed in public places. That applies also to the beach at St Barts.”
Per Edgar Kokkvold, outgoing secretary general of PFU, said that “St Barts isn’t a place you can expect to be left in peace,” during Tuesday’s discussion. Haugsgjerd of Aftenposten, which generally has carried restrained coverage of the royals over the years, also claimed that the royals’ holidays are of public interest, because “they say something about their lives, their holiday habits and their preferences. That’s of interest, no doubt about that.” The question, she said, was whether Se og Hør was sufficiently objective, impartial and professional.
The case also involved issues of press freedom and whether the royals can control coverage when they’re out in public or attending private events. Palace officials wanted PFU to determine to what degree the royals can expect their private lives to be protected, and seemed to win the rebuke they sought when PFU ruled that Se og Hør violated good press standards when it took pictures through the gate of the royals’ summer mansion on Bygdøy in Oslo, failed to give palace officials a chance to comment on the cost of the royal holiday in St Barts and failed to reveal the source of an interview it published involving Princess Martha Louise and her children. Se og Hør was also scolded for its publication of so many photos of the royal children on holiday.
“The commission believes the violation was made stronger because of the photos taken of (royal) children,” PFU stated, adding that publications should take special care when covering children.
Arnstad of Se og Hør claims her magazine does respect the royal family’s private life. “But it’s up to the Norwegian press, not the palace, to define what’s in the public interest when the royal family is in public,” she told newspaper VG. Haugsgjerd said she thought some of Arnstad’s defense was “far-fetched.” Se og Hør will now be required to publish the text of PFU’s rebukes.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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