Thursday, November 29, 2007

GeenStijl vs. Dutch Royal House


So, the Dutch Royal House is threatening to sue the website if they don't take down the above photo of crown prince Willem Alexander and his Argentine-born wife, Princess Maxima.

What in the world is so controversial here? GeenStijl says the pair were in New York buying an iPhone, which would apparently be illegal to use in the Netherlands (?? as far as I know it just wouldn't have full functionality).

The Dutch Royal House is claiming breach of privacy. I really cannot see what privacy the couple could reasonably expect in an Apple store.

Threatening letter from Royal House: Willem Alexander and Maxima "determine when someone has invaded their privacy, not you."

GeenStijl response: "You are not going to determine what's news and what's not."

People get this wrong all the time _ I was taking a photo of Darth Vader on Dam Square a few weeks ago and some passerby yelled at me that I wasn't allowed to photograph her.

As if she were royalty! No, wait. As if she were celebrity! No wait. As if she were not subject to the same rules as everybody else, no matter who she was.

Read the law, you ignorant, arrogant person.

Anybody can photograph you on the street. They just can't use your image for commercial or promotional purposes _ to advertise a product for instance _ without your permission.

For the royals, I'd say they have a good chance of forcing GeenStijl to retract their claim that the pair bought an iPhone if it's demonstrably untrue. The store should have receipts, or not, right?

So GeenStijl would need to retract that as potentially damaging to the pair's reputation, if indeed it's illegal to own an iPhone over here for some reason, and if indeed it would defame (as opposed to improving) the Royal reputation. But even so, GeenStijl should be able to keep the photo up.

If it is true the couple bought an iPhone, well. End of story. Truth is always a very strong defense against accusations of libel.

On the other hand,

I confess some confusion in my value system about the recent incident where the Dutch pedophile organization Martijn posted photos _ free, hand-out publicity photos available on the Royal House's website _ of Willem and Maxima's children.

I'm against that and so were the courts. The essence of the argument is that the Royal House should not be forced to appear to endorse pedophilia. In addition, they owned copyright of the photos and had specified that they were to be used for "educational" purposes only.

But hard to say what would have happened if those photos were taken on the street and not used to 'advertise' the pedophiles in any way, but just buried in the members section of their website. Damn, it's hard not to get emotional about that one.

An easier case was when paparazzi used long-range lenses to take photos into the royal couple's living room for one of the House of Orange fan club magazines. In their own home, the royals have a reasonable expectation of privacy, and they won a case about it in the courts, rightly.

But in the GeenStijl case _ I don't see it. The owner of a store can forbid people from taking pictures on his property, but in this case obviously he/she didn't do so, or didn't enforce it.

Willem and Maxima are public figures, he the future head of state. He's doubly fair game for media scrutiny since the Dutch monarchy retains some real political power.

People may not like GeenStijl's taste or its satirical way of bringing the news, but there's simply no question it's part of legitimate public debate.

That the Royals are shopping in an Apple store is potentially the news equivalent of George Bush (Sr.) going shopping for groceries and never having seen a laser scan, or Wim Kok (previous Dutch prime minister) having never seen a computer 'mouse.'

So in short, I think justice and fairness are on GeenStijl's side. But no "Oraclar" prediction from me as to whether they will win actually win a suit if it comes to that.

The royals are truly awarded rights and privileges that others in the Netherlands aren't. For instance, it's a crime to insult the Queen.

That makes me mad, since (as a good American mutt) I don't believe some people should be 'more equal' than others just because of their pedigree.

And it's a restriction of freedom of speech.

For balance: the argument on the other side is that, under the constitution, the Queen can't stand up for herself, because that's delegated to the prime minister, who must take political responsibility for all she says and does.

I'm not buying that _ plenty of people can't stand up for themselves, but the royals are extremely wealthy and influential people who have other means at their disposal to get their way. To name just two: manipulation of media acces; and money for high class lawyers to send intimidating letters and even sue without grounds, never mind what it costs.

In short, with the privileges of royalty comes additional media scrutiny, and the Royal House should stop whining.



Anonymous said...

wim duisenberg was never a dutch prime minister. He was minister of Finance, then later head of Dutch Central Bank, and Later European Central Bank, but never PM

Toby Sterling said...

Cracken: you're right. It should be Wim Kok (corrected). -Toby.


If you're Dutch-speaking and have never seen the video...