Max Mosley lost a court bid to force journalists to contact people before publishing potentially embarrassing details of their private lives, a case prompted when a News Corp. newspaper reported he’d taken part in a Nazi- themed sex party without calling him beforehand.
The record award the High Court in London granted the former Formula One president for breach of his privacy was “an adequate remedy” that averted the “chilling effect” a prior- notification requirement could have on the media, the European Court of Human Rights ruled today.
“For the English media, it is a positive, they will be popping champagne,” after being “so tarnished on phone hacking,” said Duncan Lamont, a media lawyer with Charles Russell LLP in London.
Mosley, who stepped down as head of F1 racing’s ruling body in 2009, won a 60,000-pound ($98,000) award in 2008 against News Corp.’s News of the World for publishing, without contacting him for comment, a story that said Mosley took part in a Nazi-themed “orgy,” along with a video. His case precipitated a surge in requests for so-called super-injunctions sought by celebrities to block press reports about their sex lives.
The decision is a victory for News of the World, the U.K.’s largest Sunday newspaper, which is facing lawsuits over tapping into the voice mails of celebrities and politicians. News Corp. (NWSA) apologized and offered settlements to some of the more than 20 people suing over the four-year-old scandal.
“Serious investigative journalism always involves consulting the subject,” Mosley said in a telephone interview today, disputing the court’s statement that requiring reporters to contact the subjects of a story would interfere with investigative reporting.
Mosley has maintained the party had no Nazi overtones and the U.K. court agreed in its July 2008 decision that there was no evidence any Nazi theme was intended.
The court ruled that requiring media outlets to notify people before publication was unnecessary.
“Any pre-notification requirement would only be as strong as the sanctions imposed for failing to observe it,” the Strasbourg, France-based court said in an e-mailed statement on the unanimous decision. “Although punitive fines and criminal sanctions could be effective in encouraging pre-notification, that would have a chilling effect on journalism.”
The decision is “a significant pulling back” from the point where there was concern politicians and royalty would need to be given inviolable privacy, Lamont said, and “towards the hurly-burly of English, slightly less polite, intrusive media.”
An appeal, which Mosley said he is considering, may be difficult because the ruling was unanimous, Lamont said.
Daisy Dunlop, a spokeswoman for New York-based News Corp.’s News International unit, declined to comment on the ruling.
Tabloids papers’ “economic interest is in publishing this sort of stuff,” said Jennifer McDermott, a lawyer with Withers LLP in London, warning today’s decision could be seen as “another excuse to continue exposing people’s private lives.”
Even had the U.K. required pre-notification, it would have to provide a “public interest” exception, which the Mosley story would have qualified for, the court said.
Mosley’s father, Oswald, founded the British Union of Fascists in 1932 and was imprisoned by the U.K. government for most of World War II. Adolf Hitler was a guest at Oswald Mosley’s wedding to his second wife, Max Mosley’s mother.
“Given that the News of the World had believed that the sexual activities they were disclosing had had Nazi overtones, they could have chosen not to notify Mr. Mosley” even if a pre- notification requirement were in place, the court said.
Mosley has filed lawsuits in 21 different countries, mainly in an effort to force websites to remove the video, he said in January at a hearing in Strasbourg. He has also filed a case before local courts in France, where he said “a couple of thousand” copies of News of the World are sold.
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