In an important new privacy judgment the Spanish Constitutional Court has held that a television company violated the right to privacy of Gonzalo Miró Romero, son of the late Pilar Miró, by speculating about the identity of his father, a fact that he and his mother had never made public.
Pilar Miró, who died in 1997, was a well known Spanish film director and screenwriter. Her son, Romero Gonzalo Miró, (“the appellant”) is a well known Spanish television presenter. On 16 and 17 August 2005, two television programmes , “Aquí hay tomate” and “TNT”, broadcast reports which speculated about the identity of the appellant’s father.
The first programme included the following:
“Gonzalo Miró … hides a big secret. He haas never known the identity of his father. Pilar Miró took the secret to the grave“.
The second programme suggested that the initials of the father were JLB – and then mentioned the name of a man with those initials. It showed photographs of this man and the appellant. A third programme included a discussion among journalists about the issue of the appellant’s paternity.
On 13 September 2005 the appellant brought a case in his own name and in the name of his late mother claiming an injury to his right to privacy. The claim was dismissed by the Court of First Instance on 9 June 2006. The appellant appealed and was successful in the Court of Appeal which entered judgment for him in the sum of €300,000.
The defendant appealed to the Supreme Court which, on 30 June 2010, allowed the appeal and dismissed the claim. It held that there was no violation of the right to privacy because the information did not identify the father of the appellant but merely put forward various speculations about his paternity. The appellant appealed to the Constitutional Court which gave judgment on 18 November 2013 [pdf].
The Constitutional Court noted that the right to privacy “implies the existence of an area which is reserved against the action and knowledge of others”. It imposes on others the duty to refrain from unjustified interference with privacy. Further, the Court accepted that a person’s parentage is part of his private life.
The Court rejected the view of the Supreme Court that there was no violation of the right to privacy because the broadcast dealt only in conjecture and speculation without making any categorical statement as to the appellant’s parentage. It held that
The right to privacy may be affected not only by the specific and truthful statement about the identity of the father of appellant, but by mere speculation or rumors about his parentage.
There was a contradiction in the position of the respondent – denying that privacy had been violated whilst the broadcast had claimed to reveal a “big secret” about the life of the appellant.
The question was whether the information communicated was in the public interest, whether it was relevant to the community generally. The satisfaction of human curiosity about the lives of others was not sufficient
The Court noted that the fact that someone is a public figure does not mean that their private life is not entitled to constitutional protection.
The fact that the information was already public without the appellant’s consent did not mean that it lost the protection of the right to privacy.
This is an important privacy decision for Spanish lawyers, clarifying a number of important issues relating to the privacy of public figures and of the dead.
Carolina Pina, partner in the Intellectual Property department and co-head of the Media & Telecom industry at the Spanish law firm Garrigues acted for the appellant and has summarized the important aspects of the decision on the firm’s blog in the following terms:
- Information on paternal filiation is not of public interest, irrespective of the fact that this information may interest viewers to a greater or lesser extent, and the public figure status of the right-holder cannot alter this conclusion. The decision follows the Constitutional Court’s previous judgment, case 134/1999, on July 15, 1999 (Sara Montiel case).
- In order for the right to information or freedom of expression to prevail, the information that has been revealed must affect, in view of its subject-matter and value, the public sphere, which does not coincide with aspects that simply arouse other people’s curiosity.
- The fact that the information is offered as mere rumors or insinuations does not mean that an intrusion of privacy has not taken place.
- It is irrelevant that the information disclosed was already public. The fact that an intimate detail has become well known without its owner’s consent does not mean that such detail is no longer protected by the right to privacy. If this were not the case it would be tantamount to limiting the right to privacy, and would introduce an unreasonable burden on its owner who would be forced to bring legal action, solely in order to avoid his passivity being considered a waiver of a specific aspect of his privacy.
- The judgment recognizes the post-mortem ownership of the right to privacy, insofar as the plaintiff requested relief both in his own name as well as in the name of his deceased mother, since this right extends, not just to aspects of one’s own personal life, but also to certain aspects of other people’s lives with whom one has a special, personal relationship.