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Von Hannover and Axel Springer: How big a victory for press freedom?

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Two cases at the European Court of Human Rights have been hailed as a victory for the press in its struggle against encroaching privacy laws – but editors would be wise to hold the order for new long lenses. Nor should footballers’ girlfriends be licking their highly glossed lips in expectation of newspaper cash taps being turned on for their kiss and tell stories.

The cases, Von Hannover v Germany (No 2) and in particular Axel Springer AG v Germany should be seen in a peculiarly German context in which “human dignity” and hence privacy, has tended to receive greater protection than in other European countries – including Britain.

It is true that the court in both cases acknowledged that readers and viewers might have a legitimate interest in public figures – but not necessarily just because they are famous. There has to be a context, described as “events of contemporary society” – a public interest reason for publication.

In the Axel Springer case reports about a TV actor arrested and prosecuted for cocaine possession had been injucted by the German courts  – a situation that would be unheard of in Britain. The judgment acknowledged a public interest in legal and judicial matters where the German courts had sought to claim no one should have an interest in the actor beyond his TV role.

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