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Complainant Name:
Messrs Eversheds on behalf of Mrs Renate John

Clauses Noted: 3

Publication: Hello!

Complaint:

Messrs Eversheds, solicitors, complained on behalf of their client Mrs Renate John that an article headlined “Renate Blauel – Elton John’s ex-wife opts for quiet life” published in Hello! magazine on 4 July 2000, intruded into her privacy in breach of Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Code of Practice.

The complaint was not upheld.

The article compared Mrs John’s current lifestyle to the one she had experienced with her former husband, the pop star Sir Elton John. It was accompanied by a photograph of the complainant in a car park – allegedly taken with a long lens – and one of the entrance to her home.

The complainant considered that, as a private person, she had a ‘reasonable expectation’ of privacy while in the public car park. She pointed out that she was not a celebrity in her own right and that since her divorce fourteen years previously she had endeavoured to stay out of the public spotlight, rejecting offers of money from the media for interviews. The article was not news and she did not expect continued press intrusion so long after ceasing to be in the public eye.

The magazine replied that the photograph of the complainant in a car park was taken when she was in a public place. The photograph of the outside of the complainant’s home had been taken from a public place. With regard to the content of the article, the magazine maintained that it contained nothing that was not already in the public domain except one or two innocuous comments which could not conceivably be held to be private. The magazine had not revealed the precise location of her home.

Decision:
Not Upheld

Adjudication:

The Commission first considered the complaint about the taking and publication of a photograph of the complainant in a car park. The Commission could certainly understand the complainant’s position as she had apparently not been aware that it had been taken and was, as she pointed out, just going about her normal routine. However, the issues for the Commission to consider were firstly whether the complainant was in a place where she had a reasonable expectation of privacy when the photograph was taken, and secondly whether its publication did not show her respect for her private life in accordance with Clause 3 (i) of the Code.

The Commission could not consider that a public car park was a place where anyone could have a reasonable expectation of privacy. The complainant was outdoors in a place where any number of people were entitled to be without restriction. The Commission appreciated that the complainant was unaware that the photograph had been taken but considered that this was not relevant under the Code. Having decided that the complainant was in a place where she did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy, the issue of whether long lens photography was used or not was therefore irrelevant.

The Commission then considered whether publication of the photograph showed a lack of respect for the complainant’s private life. It concluded that it did not. The Commission sympathised with the complainant because the attention that she received was clearly unwanted but it had to bear in mind the nature of the photograph – which had been taken in a public place while the complainant was not engaged in any private activity. Furthermore, it could not be held to illuminate any aspect of her private life.

The Commission did not consider that the photograph of the entrance to the complainant’s house – which was clearly taken in a public place – was intrusive. The Commission has previously upheld complaints which identify the precise whereabouts of homes of certain potentially vulnerable people but there were no details in this article that could have contributed to such identification.

The Commission then considered whether the content of the article itself breached Clause 3 of the Code by failing to show the complainant respect for her private life. The Commission accepts that a free press will from time to time write about people who have formerly been in the public eye and it is not the Commission’s job either to restrict this right or to afford individuals a veto over future publicity, provided, of course, that newspapers and magazines abide by the terms of the Code in such reporting. In this case, they had – because the article did not contain any material that on any reasonable criteria could be described as private. There were no details about matters that could reasonably be considered to concern her private life – for example details of her state of health, current relationships, private conversations or photographs of her in private places. Had such genuinely private matters been included in the article the Commission might have taken a different view but it could not uphold a complaint about the article when the objection appeared to be more to do with unwanted attention than the publication of truly intrusive details.

Report:
53



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