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Ex-head of Formula One racing loses court fight over orgy

Max Mosley argued that the news media should be forced to notify subjects before publishing information about their private lives. The European Court of Human Rights disagrees.

May 11, 2011|By Janet Stobart, Los Angeles Times
  • Max Mosley, the former head of Formula One, challenged the UK privacy laws after a British newspaper ran revealing stories about his private life.
Max Mosley, the former head of Formula One, challenged the UK privacy laws… (Matthew Lloyd / Getty Images )

Reporting from London — A former head of Formula One racing who successfully sued a tabloid newspaper over a story about his orgy with five women lost his bid Tuesday to force media organizations to notify subjects before publishing information about their private lives.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled that the pre-notification sought by Max Mosley would have "a serious and unjustified chilling effect" on freedom of expression. The court also said that enough rules and institutions exist to protect complainants seeking redress against reports they consider inaccurate or unjustified.

Mosley, 71, who was president of the international body that governs Formula One when the scandal broke in 2008, sued and won damages in a British court case against the weekly tabloid News of the World. The paper had revealed that Mosley, son of Oswald Mosley, the founder in the 1930s of the pro-Nazi British Union of Fascists, participated in an orgy, running a story whose headline referred to a "sick Nazi orgy with five hookers."

Mosley, who has acknowledged the sexual element of the story but denies any Nazi role playing, told the BBC on Tuesday that he would appeal the court's decision.

"It was an absolutely secret thing and … suddenly it's all over the world, and obviously the effect on my family … was considerable," he said. "For something like that to happen just for titillation and to sell a few newspapers is outrageous."

Several free-speech advocates called the court decision a victory for journalism.

"It is without doubt that free speech is an essential commodity for a thriving democracy," media lawyer Amber Melville-Brown told the London Times. But she also said the ruling should not be used "as a shield for the wider excesses" of the British press.

Caroline Kean, also a media lawyer, told the London Times the ruling made for "a good day for the press and the public's right to know."

Stobart is a staff writer in The Times' London bureau.

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