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Celebrity parties and French privacy law

Celebrity parties and French privacy law

Rod Stewart was in trademark gruff voice as he sang “happy birthday” on stage – shortly after jokingly telling the champagne quaffing guests to politely “shut up” so he could get on with the singing.

John Cleese stopped for a quick natter with Sir Bruce Forsyth, while Kimberly Walsh and Denise Van Outen looked as stunning in their party outfits as they did whilst competing on Strictly Come Dancing. Seeing Joan Collins in the flesh was an experience.

No, this isn’t me recanting some bizarre red-wine induced dream but a vignette of my night at the Hello! 25th birthday party, held in the beautiful setting of the Wallace Collection in London’s Manchester Square.

A colleague told me the next day that all he could see on his Twitter timeline was people tweeting about being at the party.

We Brits are perennial curtain twitchers. We love to know what’s going on in celebrity lives. (It’s why magazines like Hello! exist, why we read newspapers and scan the web).

We love news, we love gossip, we love revelations.

And that is one thing we have in common with our pals in France, so it seems.

Fast-forward from the Hello! party to a dinner I attended some days later at the offices of Farrers law firm in Lincolns Inn Fields. There Alain Toucas, the leading reputational management and privacy lawyer in France (he advises the Monaco Royal Family, among others).

In a wonderfully illuminating talk, Alain revealed to me and other Farrers’ guests how they deal with privacy breaches and defamation in France.

The French media has recently come into our focus once again due to those Kate Middleton pictures being published in the French edition of Closer. The case in is on-going.

France has privacy laws – thought to be the toughest in the world – as well as being defined by the European Human Rights Act (where, as in the UK, article eight, the right to privacy, and article ten, freedom of expression, are key to media).

Like Article Eight, the French Civil Code has Article Nine  – “Everyone has the right to respect for his private life.”

Infringements can be a criminal act – with jail terms looming for those who breach.

But the key point that stuck with me was that when a publication gets it wrong on a celebrity or Royal, the remedial statement – or apology of sorts – needs to be printed on the same page. That’s right – screw up a page one story, and your apology, or admittance of a privacy breach, goes smack on page one as well.

Incredible. The look of faces of other reputation management PRs around the dinner table as respective copies of Paris Match and the like were passed round with half-page splash apologies was a sight to see. I know I joined them all in this surprise. Although campaign groups have argued that the same should happen here, seeing it on a page is totally alien to PRs and media in the UK.

I asked Alain’s team if sales of these magazines plunge when they had to print page one apologies. He didn’t have those figures to hand – but he did know that huge revelations in French magazines put sales on.

And the revenues from those sales far outstrip the fines that could be levied on privacy fines for publications, meaning the decision to publish, even when warned over privacy, was a no-brainer for an editor. Sure, there is embarrassment for the more serious magazines when they have to print remedial statements on page one. But the good – the commercial gain – far outweighs the bad.

And although lawyers in France can have seven or eight actions EACH week for just one client, the ball-game rolls on. And on. And on.

There is the threat of criminal prosecution but take the high profile example of the Kate pictures – it is widely accepted that the two people charged over the Kate pictures will escape with a fine and not be jailed.

Most startling was the game-playing that goes on in France – one publication passed around the table showed an apology at the bottom of the page relating to Prince Albert. But the top half of the splash had a brand new story on Prince Albert basically singing the praises of the story that they had been taken to task over.

So, not a remedy at all really – the magazine publishers apologise on one hand, then laugh about it behind the other.

There is huge cynicism and despite the legal cases flowing and page one apologies hitting the news-stands, the juggernaut roles on. The French press have decided it is okay to take risks.

Interestingly, there is no press-regulatory body in France, unlike the much maligned and soon to be replaced PCC in the UK.

So, as the UK newspapers battle it out with politicians and self-appointed, un-elected campaign groups over a new form of press regulation – said to be the first press laws this country has ever had – the need to get it right is so important.

And while some of the details Alain wonderfully outlined at dinner would seem very appealing for those of us working in reputation PR, the world’s toughest privacy laws don’t seem to be the answer. We should be careful what we wish for.

Komments on the Kardashian Kollection

Image Courtesy of, flickr. com

Image Courtesy of, flickr. com

Recognising the UK’s fixation with celebrity style and using this as an effective marketing tool, the Kardashians have collaborated with Dorothy Perkins on a collection of bodycon dresses, tops, jeans and skirts. When it comes to Fashion PR, a collaboration makes for a great campaign. And celebrity collaborations will attract both the fashion and celebrity press in equal measure.

The Dorothy Perkins press team even tried to pull off a double celebrity endorsement, sending some of Kim’s designs to Kate Middleton. In a recent interview with Now magazine, Kim gushed, “Kate seems like a really sweet person and she’s a princess. We love her sense of fashion. She could wear our looks and team it with one of her hats.” As with any gift, the selection from the Kardashian Kollection was returned, with one palace insider commenting, “Kate is hardly going to turn up for an event with the Queen n a cheap leopard-print miniskirt or a gold sequin jacket.” Despite the negative comment, this is actually a brilliant piece of PR. The press team will have of course known that the dresses would be sent back, but this was a great way of securing more coverage post-launch.

The Kardashian’s collaboration with Dorothy Perkins is an effective combination of both fashion PR and celebrity PR, raising the profile of the Kardashians in the UK whilst rejuvenating the Dorothy Perkins brand. The launch of the Kollection proved successful. 500 spaces were available to the general public to meet the sisters at a signing event at Westfield. Thousands of teenagers turned up, with many sleeping outside overnight in the car park.

It is interesting however that the majority of the Kollection is now on sale with pretty substantial reductions. Whilst the PR around the launch was obviously very successful, it will be more difficult to maintain in the long term, which could potentially be quite damaging for Dorothy Perkins.