Lawyers for Dutch Prince Willem-Alexander, his wife Princess Máxima and their daughter Amalia, argued in court Friday that The Associated Press violated their privacy by taking photographs on a skiing holiday in Argentina. A report by Toby Sterling (AP)
The AP photographs of Prince Willem-Alexander, his Argentine-born wife Máxima and their 5-year-old daughter Amalia on a slope were published July 30 in several Dutch and international newspapers, Web sites and blogs. The family claims that violated a long-standing agreement with the (Dutch) media.
The heir to the Dutch throne demanded a summary judgment that the international news organization remove the photos from its databases and pay a fine of up to 25,000 euros ($35,000) for each day it refuses, up to a maximum of 250,000 euros.
A ruling is due Aug. 28.
"My wife and I feel such photos are very damaging to our family life," Willem-Alexander said in a letter read by his lawyer in civil court. "It causes unacceptable pressure on our children." In a statement from its New York headquarters, the AP said it "understands and respects the tension between freedom of information in a democratic society and an individual's right to privacy.
"Given the specific facts of the present case, AP strongly believes that the interests of freedom of information far outweigh the desire for privacy. AP believes that the court will fairly decide the outcome on the basis of the facts presented at today's hearing."
AP's lawyers argued the photos were taken at a respectful distance and were no different from other photos that the prince permits at prearranged photo sessions. "These are photos taken in a public place, of a public figure, in accordance with the law," said Niels Mulder. He also noted that while AP distributes photos, subscribers make the decision whether to publish them.
The princely couple's lawyer, the government attorney Henk Jan Boukema, said AP had implicitly agreed to follow the terms of access when it participated in an organized "media moment" on July 20 in the Netherlands when photographers were allowed to take pictures of the family on the beach.
Boukema said by attending the official photo opportunity the AP was bound to follow a "media code" drawn up by the Royal House, which cites European and Dutch courts as saying the family has "the right to be left in peace" unless reports and photographs are in the general public interest. The Dutch media that published the AP photographs have apologized and agreed to abide by the code in future. Therefore, no legal action was sought against them, Boukema said.
Judge Rullmann asked several times what public interest the photos served. Mulder gave several examples in which photos could contribute to valuable public discussion, such as whether the family should be vacationing in Argentina at a time of economic crisis. But he stressed that it was always for the media to decide if there is public interest and whether the photos should be published.
He said there are hundreds of photos of the royal family on vacation stored in the national archive, so it was evident that such photos are of public interest. "I don't like it that you keep referring to the distant past," Judge Rullmann said. "Times have changed. The media are more intrusive now."
Mulder also argued that that the press, rather than courts or the royal family, should determine when a photo is of news interest. "Do you want to say that (the royal family) will always be subjected to photos in public places, that they can only have a private life behind palace doors?" the judge asked. Boukema argued that the royal children, in particular, should not be subject to unwanted photos.
The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders has condemned the suit. The organization said the demand to forbid coverage of the royal family except at specified moments "would be censorship pure and simple, and would give other heads of states the opportunity to demand similar treatment." GPD © AP; Photo bt © RVD