Sections of the French press have reacted angrily to British tabloids’ outrage over the publication of topless photos of the Duchess of Cambridge.
Fleet Street titles have variously described the photos as “disturbing”, “unpleasant” and “grossly intrusive”, while The Sun dubbed the photographer “le rat”.
Laurent Joffrin, editor of centre-left news magazine Le Nouvel Observateur, pointed out that only one title in France had published the photographs.
“We wouldn’t have published it because it’s against our rules,” he told Press Gazette. “I don’t think there has been much judgement about it in France, though. It’s a subject of amusement rather than indignation.”
Although the photographs attracted a lot of sales for Closer, Joffrin insists it was not seen as a significant event.
“They publish topless actresses and French celebrities all the time – it’s rather common,” he said.
“There is a big respect for the royal family but we think it’s just an incident, something not very important, which happens all the time.
“The sense of equality amongst the French has its part in it – why would the royal family be spared by this type of thing?”
Joffrin described The Sun’s stance as a “contradiction” when considering the publication of naked pictures of Prince Harry at the end of August, and rubbished comparisons in the British press between Kate and Princess Diana.
“Taking a photograph from very far is not the same as running after someone. The comparison has no grounds for me,” he said.
“Very often British journalists have said it is not normal that the private life is so protected by the law and customs of France.
“It was the DSK [Dominique Strauss-Kahn] affair case where we had British journalists saying ‘we would have written all about the private life of DSK’.
“We were accused of hiding things and now we are accused of not hiding things – it’s a total contradiction.
“If it’s bad to invade a private life, it’s bad to invade DSK’s as well. And if it’s good, why should a royal family be special?”
He added: “What the press in France would say I suppose is that the British press does the same thing all the time about plenty of people, so it’s strange to be suddenly appalled by the thing.
“The British press is much worse at intruding than in France because we have a law against it. It is article nine of the civil court act, which protects private life – this doesn’t exist in Britain.”
While dismissing parallels with Princess Diana, Joffrin said the case compares well with the treatment of Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, the wife of former French president Nicolas Sarkozy.
During a state visit to the UK, sections of the British press unearthed pictures of her posing naked, when she was a model.
John Lichfield, The Independent’s France correspondent, admitted there were similarities.
“She was a model at the time, and presumably consented to it being taken, but tried to have it banned. But the fact was it was published at that time to embarrass her or to embarrass the French.”
Lichfield, based in Paris, said the British tabloid press’s outrage at the Duchess of Cambridge pictures has been “difficult to stomach from some on this side of the water”.
“There certainly hasn’t been the shock and horror in France that’s been expressed in the British press. But there hasn’t been any particular support for Closer either,” he said.
“It’s just seen as another incident of its kind. Yes, it’s been treated as an interesting case, but there hasn’t been the same kind of heat that there has been in Britain.
“Although French privacy laws seem tough on the surface – in the sense that you’re not allowed to report anything on the private lives of people without their permission – the penalties are quiet weak.
“Virtually every week, if you look at a magazine like Closer, they have a little article saying that they’ve been made to pay £3,000 for revealing a certain celebrity.”
Legally, Lichfield says it is interesting that the Duchess of Cambridge has chosen to take criminal as well as civil action.
“If the criminal case goes forward Closer and the photographer could be brought to court and sent to prison – that is very rare,” he said.
“In some ways, a lot of what’s going on is symbolic. It’s Kate and William’s thing. ‘We’re not just going to tolerate this. We’re going to draw the line and hope that other people will think twice before seeking the other pictures in the future.’
“Frankly, I don’t think that’s the way the world works. The chances are that the pursuit of Kate might become even more intense in the future. In France and elsewhere.”
Controversy aside, Lichfield feels sure Closer’s decision to publish the photographs has had a positive impact so far for the title.
“Will people stop reading Closer in France because they’re aggrieved by this? No, I don’t think they will,” he said.
“It’s fairly typical of what people expect to see in these sorts of magazines and I don’t think it will damage the magazine in France.
“In terms of publicity and sales, I think the magazine will obviously think it’s a great coup. But if down the road this criminal action leads to something, and if Closer Britain decides to terminate its relationship, they might have a different view.”
The controversy over the Kate pictures comes just weeks after British journalists descended on Annecy in the French Alps to cover the execution-style shooting of a family of four British holiday-makers.
Peter Allen, a freelance journalist based in France who covered the shootings for the Daily Mail, said: “The main difference between the French and British media is one of emphasis.
“French reporters and photographers are extremely hard-working and thorough, but their material is never given the kind of projection you see in the UK.
“French newspapers and TV news are not just restrained – they’re awkwardly edited, with important revelations often hidden away.
“The media is far less commercial in France – circulations are extremely low, and there’s not the same kind of competition to a get a slick product out.
“These terrible murders, combined with the treatment of two young girls, has caused not just sadness, but genuine shock and anger in Britain. Fleet Street papers, and first class news channels like Sky News reflect the sense of urgency we all have to get to the truth.
“There’s nothing insensitive about wanting to know why four people were murdered in cold blood – it’s an important story, and journalists have a duty to investigate.
“The French, meanwhile, are more deferential and reluctant to intrude. It’s a more deferential country, and privacy laws are very strict.
“That’s not to say that very good French reporters aren’t out on the ground. There have been hundreds from both France and Britain at every relevant site every day. The French authorities are very aware of this – they know that there is a massive expectation that they should bring the perpetrators of this crime to justice. It’s the huge media presence which keeps reminding them of this.”