Ever since topless photos of Kate Middleton sunning herself on a private estate in France were published by the French magazine Closer, people have been comparing the invasion of privacy to the awful death of Prince William’s mother Princess Diana, who was in a fatal car crash after being chased by paparazzi.
It is impossible to say if fascination with future queen Kate will ever escalate to such drastic levels, but after all of the scandal and tragedy William and brother Prince Harry have faced, I expect the public adoration of her will be slow to dwindle.
William and Kate were seen on tour of the Pacific after the news broke. Neither smiled, and William’s eyes were full of hate and disgust. It is obvious that he is strongly opposed to the photos being taken, and then published, and official statements from the royals have promised all possible legal action against the paparazzi and magazines responsible.
Various editors (in Ireland, France, Germany, and Italy) who plan to publish even more photos have stood up for their right to do so, citing the normalcy of the photos, and the public right to know about the future monarch’s personal lives. A spokesman at St James’ Palace said, “There can be no motivation for this action other than greed.” And this is completely true. The magazines publishing the photos will see record sales, huge increases in website traffic, and their names will become infamous and legendary.
French prosecutors may announce charges against the paparazzi. France has very strict laws about photographs, but the criminal case on top of a civil case by William and Kate will probably do little to deter future photographs from being taken and published. Chi, a magazine in Italy, has announced plans to print more photos. Their involvement has done little to halt the Diana comparison, as Chi printed photos of Diana as she lay dying, surrounded by paramedics. Of course, the palace believes that such tragic scenes have no place in magazines.
The palace also said, “Any such publication would serve no purpose other than to cause further entirely unjustifiable upset to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, who were enjoying time alone together in the privacy of a relative’s home.” This would feed very well into the spin “young couple in love,” but the royals seem intent on maintaining the “invasion of privacy” stance.
The Irish Daily Star has also picked up the images. Editor Mike O’Kane explained the magazine’s decision to print the photos, comparing Kate to any other celebrity. “Kate Middleton has married into a really privileged background. She has the most fantastic life ahead of her and the most fantastic opportunities. Of course, ordinary people are interested in that.”
He continued, describing the difference in impact based on country of printing. “She’s not the future queen of Ireland so really the only place this is causing fury seems to be in the UK, and they are very tasteful pictures. I won’t apologise for that. Of course we are out to return a profit to our shareholders.” So, basically, he sort of turns it into an economic argument, implying that it’s just business. He’s right too, at least from his own perspective.
But not all are so willing to make a quick buck. Owner of the Irish paper Richard Desmond is seeking to close the paper, explaining, “I am very angry at the decision to publish these photographs and am taking immediate steps to close down the joint venture. The decision to publish these pictures has no justification whatever.”
In Italy, editor of Chi Alfonso Signorini promised that he doesn’t “see anything morbid or damaging in them.” He also said, “Chi pays attention to respecting people’s dignity. I don’t think they hurt Kate’s image. The fact that these photos feature the future King and Queen of England make the story more interesting and topical.”
It’s obvious that the contrast between uptight Queen Elizabeth and young, trendy William and Kate means that any nontraditional actions will be newsworthy. Signorini tried the “young couple in love” spin, continuing, “You will see a famous, modern in-love young couple looking natural and going about their daily life. The story is in line with the modern conception of the monarchy. In short they are beautiful pictures of an ordinary couple who are in fact not ordinary.”
Dr. David Erdos explains the vast difference in international privacy laws. “Italy takes the issue of privacy far more seriously than many other European countries. It has a privacy law which covers journalism and is legally binding. It goes further than anything that is required by the European Union’s Directive on Data Protection, on which it was based. Re-publication of the photographs printed in Closer, or any previously unpublished photographs, are likely to be regarded as an invasion of privacy. Furthermore the law prevents publication of images which effect a person’s dignity. Under these grounds Kate would have fairly strong grounds for preventing publication.”
Clearly the magazines are preparing a defense that the activities the couple were engaged in are totally ordinary, non-events. Whether or not the magazines have moral reasoning on their side, the laws are against them, and the entire power of Great Britain is set against their exoneration.
Public opinion is really the deciding factor. I believe that this will end in court, but that it is the public reaction to the photos and the legal procedures following that will decide whether or not this incident makes the history books, or will just live on in documentaries and unauthorized biographies.