Friday, September 14, 2012

Britain Rebukes Magazine for Publishing Images of Topless Kate Middleton - New York Times

LONDON â€" In a dispute evoking the furor that swirled around press coverage of Princess Diana, Britain’s royal household on Friday issued a powerful rebuke to a French magazine that published paparazzi photographs of Kate Middleton, the wife of Diana’s elder son, William, sunbathing topless at a secluded and upscale villa in the lavender fields of Provence.

Coming after the publication of photographs last month of Prince Harry, Diana’s younger son, cavorting naked at a party in Las Vegas, the appearance of the images of Ms. Middleton, now the Duchess of Cambridge, in the French edition of Closer magazine raised profound questions about the limits of royal privacy and threatened to revive old strains with the press.

Before his marriage to Ms. Middleton last year, Prince William had repeatedly indicated that he wished to shield her from what the royal family depicted as the hounding of Diana before, throughout and after her doomed marriage to his father, Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne.

At the moment of her death in a car crash in Paris on August 31, 1997, photographers were in pursuit of Diana to the last. “William and Harry lost their mother in circumstances in France where the press, at that time, were completely out of control,” Michael Ellis, a Conservative lawmaker told Sky News. “This will bring back painful memories.”

In a statement on Friday, the royal couple’s office at St. James’s Palace called the publication of photographs of the Duchess of Cambridge “grotesque and totally unjustifiable,” comparing the images with “the worst excesses of the press and paparazzi during the life of Diana, Princess of Wales, and all the more upsetting to the duke and duchess for being so.”

The images of Ms. Middleton were not, initially at least, published in Britain, where newspaper standards and practices have come under an unaccustomed and fierce spotlight after the phone hacking scandal that has focused primarily on Rupert Murdoch’s British newspapers.

A Web version of the cover of Closer magazine hid its content behind a thick, black bar. In France, the magazine went on sale with a cover showing the topless Ms. Middleton, a headline in English saying “Oh, my God” and, in French, “the photos that will go around the world.” Inside, several grainy photographs showed the royal couple sunbathing beside a swimming pool.

Referring to the Duke and Duchess, their office said Friday that “their royal highnesses have been hugely saddened to learn that a French publication and a photographer have invaded their privacy in such a grotesque and unjustifiable manner.”

“Their royal highnesses had every expectation of privacy in the remote house. It is unthinkable that anyone should take such photographs, let alone publish them. Officials acting on behalf of their royal highnesses are consulting with lawyers to consider what options may be available to the Duke and Duchess.”

The images emerged as the couple traveled in the Far East as part of a tour observing the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II’s 60-year rule. Their schedule for Friday included a visit to a mosque in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The photographs were taken before the official tour while the couple vacationed in Provence, in southern France, last week at what British media reports described as a chateau owned by Lord Linley, the Queen’s nephew.

The villa complex, built around a 19th century hunting lodge called the Chateau d’Autet, is set in 640 acres of woodland and can house up to 17 people at four main properties. Apart from being a vacation retreat for Lord Linley and his family, it has also been rented out for thousands of dollars a week, offering guests a variety of recreational options including a tennis court, swimming pool and an area to play the French bowling game called boule. A promotional Web site extolled its unique “peace and quiet.”

Prime Minister David Cameron’s office joined broad condemnation of the publication of the photographs, saying Mr. Cameron “echoed the anger and sadness of the palace” and that the Duke and Duchess “are entitled to their privacy.”

Condemnation of the publication spread across the British media, sometimes evoking old rivalries between France and Britain. A headline in The Daily Mirror tabloid referred to the French edition of Closer as a “sneaky French mag.”

Princess Diana’s friend Rosa Monckton said in a message on Twitter: “I’m on a rant and very angry having seen at firsthand the emotional price paid for press intrusion. My last word on this: leave Kate alone.”

According to The Evening Standard newspaper, photographers, including local cameramen not linked to international paparazzi, said the couple were visible from a nearby road as they relaxed on a terrace beside a pool. Prince William appeared to be reading an iPad as Kate rubbed sun cream into his back, the newspaper said.

Closer magazine insisted there had been no breach of safety or security, according to The Evening Standard. “If two public figures chose to strip off in full view of a public road then they can expect to be pictured, and they were,” an unidentified person at Closer magazine was quoted as saying.

The Daily Mirror quoted the editor of Closer magazine in France, Laurence Pieau, as defending the decision to publish the pictures. “These photos are not in the least shocking,” he said. “They show a young woman sunbathing topless, like the millions of women you see on beaches.”

Since the couple married, the British press has generally fallen in with informal requests by their office for privacy, although The Sun, a Murdoch-owned tabloid, defied a royal request to refrain from publishing the photographs of the naked Prince Harry after they appeared elsewhere.

The British edition of Closer magazine said on Friday that it had not been offered the photographs of Kate Middleton and would not anyhow publish them.

But overseas outlets have been less cooperative with the royal household, publishing photographs of the couple and their puppy despite efforts by royal officials to discourage coverage of the dog.

According to British media, there have been Internet photographs of the couple walking the dog on a beach in Anglesey, near a Royal Air Force base where Prince William is a search and rescue helicopter pilot. An Australian magazine has also printed picture of the couple on their honeymoon in the Seychelles.

French legal experts who work on privacy issues said the couple could have a strong case under French privacy laws if they sued in a French court. Jean-Frédéric Gaultier, a parter in the law firm Olswang, told the BBC that the couple could sue for an injunction to force Closer to withdraw the issue carrying the photographs, and to prevent any sale of the photographs to other publications. They could also sue for damages, he said.

Mr. Gaultier said there had been a longstanding wariness in France towards media invasion of the private lives of public figures, but that this had eased since the sex scandal that enveloped Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former French finance minister and onetime head of the International monetary Fund. 

“Things are changing,” he said, but not to the degree that French courts would accept paparazzi using “long-lens photography” to obtrude into the private lives of William and Kate. “The overwhelming public interest in this case is not obvious,” he said.

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