Motor racing boss seeks European ruling on privacy

Former motor racing boss Max Mosley argued Tuesday that a tabloid that splashed lurid stories about his sexual exploits on the Internet had a responsibility to warn him.

Last Updated: Jan 12, 2011, 00:21 AM IST

Paris: Former motor racing boss Max Mosley argued Tuesday that a tabloid that splashed lurid stories about his sexual exploits on the Internet had a responsibility to warn him, as a European court heard a case that could change the face of British journalism.

Mosley won a privacy suit against the News of the World for its 2008 story claiming he participated in an hours-long Nazi-themed orgy with five prostitutes. But, despite a payout from the newspaper, he has now turned to the European Court of Human Rights, saying British courts must better protect personal privacy.

“If Mr. Mosley had known that the News of the World was going to publish a story about his sex life, he would have applied for an injunction to prevent publication,” Mosley’s lawyer Lord David Pannick told the Strasbourg, France-based court, according to comments he provided to The Associated Press by e-mail. “And an injunction would have been granted by the court. There is and could be no dispute about that.”

If Mosley wins, the court could require the U.K. government to pass a law forcing the press to warn people about stories that could harm their privacy — and potentially allowing them to ask a court to prevent the material’s publication.

“It’s inconceivable with serious journalism that you would write something without first speaking to the subject,” Mosley told BBC Radio 4 before the hearing.

Lawyers representing European publishers say such a rule could tie their hands, stopping or delaying important news and leaving criminal behavior uncovered.

“It does absolutely nothing in serving public interest and proper investigative journalism,” said Mark Stephens, one of the media lawyer who made a submission to the court.
On March, 30, 2008, Britain’s biggest-selling newspaper published a front-page story alleging that Mosley, then president of the governing body that oversees Formula One racing, engaged in a sex session with prostitutes that involved beating, domination, and Nazi role play. The story was also posted on the web and was a staple of tabloid news.

Mosley acknowledged taking part in the orgy but denied it had any kind of Nazi theme. Mosley is the son of the late Oswald Mosley, Britain’s best-known fascist politician in the 1930s.

The High Court held that there was no public interest justification for exposing the private life of Mosley, who was awarded 60,000 pounds ($93,000) in damages.

“Because the journalist had no duty to notify Mr. Mosley in advance, the court was prevented from balancing freedom of speech and the right to private life,” Pannick said.

Pannick said that claims by the government and media that prepublication notifications would be hard to implement were exaggerated. He claimed the subject of a publication is contacted in advance in 99 percent of cases.

“It is a curious paradox that in a society which has become increasingly tolerant on matters of sexual freedom, and has increasingly valued the right to personal privacy on sexual matters, the News of the World should, like the Taliban, insist on forcing its way into the bedrooms of consenting adults to humiliate and punish them, and frustrate the rule of law by preventing independent judges from protecting the right to private life,” Pannick said.
Britain is already known for its plaintiff-friendly libel laws. Libel laws in many countries, including the US, generally require plaintiffs to prove a published article was both false and written maliciously. In Britain, the burden of proof falls on the defendant to demonstrate what it published was true.

The court is not expected to issue a ruling before six to 12 months. European Court of Human Rights judgments are legally binding but difficult to enforce.

Mosley said a ruling in his favor wouldn’t prevent journalists from investigating and would benefit people who don’t have the financial means to get involved in lengthy and costly court proceedings.

“At the moment, an ordinary person has got to first of all find a solicitor and then get that solicitor to find a specialist that would actually act. Now that’s very difficult to do in a short space of time,” Mosley said, adding that prior notification would facilitate access to judicial protection for the victims of breach of privacy.

Bureau Report