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British privacy should start with British press

By Agnes Poirier, special to CNN
updated 6:52 PM EDT, Fri September 14, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Agnes Poirier: UK commentators forget Britain boasts most intrusive press in Europe
  • In France stricter privacy laws protect people from such intrusion, she says
  • Poirier: "French celebrities whose privacy has been invaded tend to sue straight away"
  • French value privacy but may see British media attacks as hypocritical, she says

Editor's note: Agnes Poirier is a French journalist and political analyst who contributes regularly to newspapers, magazines and TV in the UK, France and Italy. Follow her on Twitter @AgnesCPoirier

(CNN) -- When waking up this morning in France, one could be forgiven for not knowing that French celebrity magazine Closer had crossed the Rubicon and published topless pictures of Kate Middleton, wife of Prince William, heir to the British Crown.

No mention on early morning radio shows or television news bulletins, nothing on the national daily newspapers' websites. It is in fact the British furore over the publication which slowly made France aware of the shocking faux pas.

In an interesting cultural twist, the British media suddenly discussed the outrageous breach of the Royals' privacy by French photographers, invoking the fate of late Princess Diana in Paris, at the hands of French paparazzi.

British commentators seemed to be forgetting a little too quickly perhaps that Britain boasts the most intrusive tabloid and celebrity press in Europe, one which never shies away from divulging, and often making up, stories about public figures' intimacy.

Topless photos prompt royal privacy row

And while there is a right to privacy in Britain under the human rights act, the law is much stricter in France. In that country, privacy laws protect people from such intrusion and there is no doubt that if the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge do sue, they're likely to win their case.

Only last week, Valérie Trierweiler, partner of French President François Hollande, won a string of cases against publications having showed her in a bikini this summer.

However, the rise of the celebrity press in France since the introduction in 2005 of magazines such as Closer, -- the French edition is published by Italian company Mondadori, part of the Berlusconi empire -- has proved that French readers have a taste for gossip too.

With a weekly circulation of 400 000, Closer is a natural heir to France's first gossip magazine, German-owned Voici introduced in 1981.

Many in Britain may add that France has in fact a much older tradition: Look at Paris Match, the world's oldest celebrity magazine. Paris Match, a political and current affairs magazine, has indeed a keen interest for public personalities, but keeps away from the salacious unlike publications such as Closer. Paris Match also publishes serious political reportages.

The problem of the celebrity press in France lies in the fact that magazines such as Closer, knowing all too well they'll be condemned and fined for invading people's lives, take it into account from the beginning and provision all legal costs in advance. In short, their success is such that they can afford paying hefty fines every week.

They also tend to target foreign personalities, American or British, as their lives have already been invaded by sister publications in their respective countries and they are less inclined to sue.

French celebrities whose privacy has been invaded tend to react, fast and furious, and sue straight away, well aware of their rights.

No doubt, the French public at large will have sympathy for the royal couple especially as their intimacy was breached in France while they were having some time off before embarking on a tour of Malaysia on behalf of the Queen.

As a nation as a whole, they value privacy and everyone's right to it, powerful or not. However, they may take the British media's attacks less kindly and brand it hypocritical.

They remember how, only just a few weeks ago, Rupert Murdoch's The Sun justified publishing the pictures of a naked Prince Harry in a Las Vegas luxury hotel in the name "of public interest."

If the British media is keen to protect the young royal couple from the paparazzi's glare, perhaps they could start at home.

A spokesman from St James's Palace declared: "We believe a red line has been crossed." The red line is crossed every time somebody's privacy is invaded, royal or not.

After Diana: Why no privacy in France?

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