European Court Rules Journalists Must Be Cautious Reporting on Sexuality of Celebrities

Singer Paulina Rubio gets a win in a long-running privacy case over what was stated on Spanish television.
Nino Munoz / FOX
Paulina Rubio

Just because someone is famous, it doesn't give journalists the right to report rumors of homosexuality. That's according to a ruling Tuesday from the European Court of Human Rights that holds up a star's privacy on certain matters as trumping free expression.

The justices there examined a more-than-decade-old case involving Paulina Rubio, a Mexican singer and television personality who may be most familiar to American audiences for her role as a judge on The X Factor. In 2005, Rubio's former manager gave interviews to Spanish broadcasters. The programs addressed such topics as whether the singer was bisexual and whether Rubio had pushed her boyfriend into drug use.

Rubio subsequently sued the television stations as well as the hosts and her former manager. In 2007, her claims were dismissed by a Madrid judge who came to the conclusion that since Rubio's sexual tastes had been discussed in the public for many years, there could be no breach of her privacy. The judge also added that homosexuality could no longer be regarded as "dishonorable." In 2009, that decision was upheld by Spain's Supreme Court.

Now, eight years later, a court has come to a different conclusion upon Rubio's arguments that Spain infringed her rights under Article 8 (right to respect for privacy and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights. The court belongs to the 47-nation Council of Europe.

Spain submitted that the comments on television were frivolous and that the TV ratings demonstrated the public's taste for gossip. The government also discussed how Rubio had benefited from publicity, how she participated in celebrity news, how the media outlets hadn't obtained the information unlawfully and how there weren't any definitive statements about Rubio's sexuality.

Rubio retorted that her status as a public figure in the arts couldn't justify the comments made on the television programs.

The European court largely agrees and shrugs off Spain's argument that public appetite provides a justification.

According to the decision (see here, which we're translating from French), "General interest cannot be reduced to the expectations of a public fond of details about the private life of others, nor the taste of readers for the sensational, even for voyeurism. A well-known person affects the protection afforded to his or her privacy. However, this is not a public person in official capacity, and therefore the right to privacy is in principle wider."

The justices also respond to the observation that Rubio's sexuality and relationships were spoken of openly before. They aren't impressed and have a message for journalists.

The opinion states: "Whenever information or comments involving the privacy of others are involved, it is incumbent on journalists ... as far as possible to weigh the impact of the information and images to be published prior to their dissemination. In particular, certain events of private and family life are the subject of particularly careful protection under Article 8 of the Convention and must therefore lead journalists to exercise caution in their treatment. The indiscriminate spreading of unverified rumors and uncontrolled commentary on any subject relating to the privacy of others should not be seen as innocuous."

The decision may be shocking to those only familiar with American jurisprudence on the subject of privacy and free speech. It should be noted, however, that this judgment isn't final. According to press notes from the court, any party may make a request in the next three months to have it reviewed before a panel of five judges for further examination.