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Royals pursue ‘historic’ complaint

Norway’s royal family has filed what’s being called an “historic” complaint against Norwegian magazine Se og Hør, in an effort to clarify whether the magazine violated “good press standards” and invaded the family’s privacy.

This was the issue of magazine "Se og Hør" that royally ticked off the royals, with its 14 pages of bikini-clad Crown Princess Mette-Marit and her family on holiday in the Caribbean. The magazine has defended its right to run photographs of the royals taken on a public beach. PHOTO: Se og Hør
This was the issue of magazine “Se og Hør” that royally ticked off the royals, with its 14 pages of bikini-clad Crown Princess Mette-Marit and her family on holiday in the Caribbean. The magazine has defended its right to run photographs of the royals taken on a public beach. PHOTO: Se og Hør

It’s the first time the royal family collectively has filed a formal complaint over how they’ve been treated in the press. They already have objected strongly on their own official website over Se og Hør’s coverage of what the family considers to be private holidays.

The royals were especially irked by Se og Hør’s decision to publish what they claim were more than 60 pages of photos in various issues of the magazine from beach holidays showing the royals in swimwear and sunning themselves. The photos included several of the children of Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit, which palace officials found particularly objectionable.

The Royal Palace itself announced that the filing with the national press commission PFU (Pressens Faglige Utvalg) was sent by top palace official (hoffsjef) Åge Grutle to PFU on Tuesday, regarding stories and photo spreads in eight editions of Se of Hør over a period of around eight months. The formal complaint was also sent at the same time to Se og Hør.

“We want PFU to clarify to what degree it believes that royal family members have a right to a private life,” palace spokeswoman Marianne Hagen told The royals want to know what rights they have to privacy also when they are in public places. “It is especially important for the royal family that their children’s privacy is protected also in situations where adult family members are present,” stated the palace in its announcement.

‘Hidden cameras’ and sneak photography
The palace claimed that many of the photos published in Se og Hør were taken with telephoto lenses or hidden cameras without the royals being aware they were being photographed. Photos of the royal children were taken, according to palace officials, through fences when the children were on private property.

“Members of the Royal Family must, by virtue of their officials roles, share much of their lives with the Norwegian people,” the complaint itself stated. “Therefore there’s a special need for situations that can remain private. Such privacy is fundamental for anyone to be able to live and develop as a person. This applies also to royalty.”

The 12-page complaint (external link, mostly in Norwegian) reveals that the royals already have sought a legal evaluation from attorney Kyrre Eggen, and that he believes Norwegian courts could, in accordance with “signals” from the European Court of Human Rights, forbid publishing photos not deemed to be in the public interest. Eggen was cited as believing that the royal family “should be protected from publication of holiday photos and other photos of their private errands, even if the holidays and private errands occur in publicly accessible places.” The “public interest,” in the opinion of palace officials, cannot be construed as simply satisfying public curiosity or providing entertainment.

A member of the PFU board told NRK that the royal family’s complaint will be handled “just like any other complaint” and that they won’t get any special treatment by the commission. Several press officials already have complained that the royals can’t always set the terms of their own exposure in the press. While the complaint objects to the publication of photos of the royals in swimwear because of their “higher degree of intimacy” that constitutes a “violation of privacy,” the palace itself has published photos over the years of the royals on boats, for example, or out windsurfing, and wearing swimsuits. Those photos clearly were approved by the palace, though, whereas the palace claims in its complaint that “paparazzi pictures … are a violation of privacy.” It may be more difficult for PFU to see the difference.

‘Important principles’ at stake
Per Edgar Kokkvold, secretary general of the Norwegian Press Federation (Norsk Presseforbund) to which PFU is attached, told that the complaint addresses important principles around coverage of the royal family’s “private sphere” and when they can be expected to be left in peace.

“They are the most public of all Norwegian families and without press attention, the (royal) institution will die,” Kokkvold told NRK. “But they also have a right to a private life.”

Even though the entire royal family in their institutional role as kongehuset has never filed a complaint, individual members including Princess Martha Louise have done so on a few occasions, against both Se og Hør and newspapers Dagbladet and Bergensavisen.

Ellen Arnstad, editor in chief of Se og Hør, has vigorously defended her magazine’s coverage of the royals and has stated that it lies within ethical standards. She has made a point of the fact that the royals were on public beaches when the photos were taken. She sent a message to newspaper VG on Tuesday saying that further response to the royals’ complaint would be sent to the commission itself and not through the media.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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