One of the most popular singers and songwriters in Iceland, Bubbi Morthens, won a libel case against the gossip magazine Hér og nú in the Supreme Court of Iceland yesterday, confirming the ruling of Reykjavík District Court from March 2006.
The former editor of Hér og nú (“Here and now”), Gardar Örn Úlfarsson, has to pay ISK 700,000 (EUR 8,000, USD 11,000) in compensation and ISK one million (EUR 11,000, USD 15,000) in legal costs. Morthens originally demanded ISK 20 million (EUR 230,000, USD 301,000) in compensation. Fréttabladid reports.
On June 16, 2005, there was a picture of Morthens smoking a cigarette inside his car on the cover of Hér og nú with the headline “Bubbi fallinn!” (“Bubbi has fallen!”). In that context “fallen” implied that Morthens had taken up former addictive habits.
The Supreme Court’s ruling said the headline could only be understood in one way, that Morthens had begun using drugs again, because most people were aware of that Morthens had struggled with drug addiction in his younger years.
Inside Hér og nú it was reported that Morthens had taken up smoking again, as the pictures on the cover showed.
The Supreme Court’s ruling further stated that Morthens’ privacy had been violated with the publication of these pictures.
“Pictures that are put under the public eye have to be in the public’s interest,” said Sigrídur Rut Júlíusdóttir, advocate of the Supreme Court and counsel for the defense. “Publishing a picture of my client inside a car doing something private [smoking a cigarette], is not in the public’s interest.”
“I feel the Supreme Court had gone to great lengths in limiting what is supposed to be a free media,” said Gísli Hall, Úlfarsson’s lawyer, and added that he was surprised by the ruling.
“Is the Surpeme Court saying journalists are not allowed to play with ambiguity? Is one inviolable from journalists inside a car? How does the Supreme Court evaluate what is in the public’s interest and what isn’t?” asked Arna Schram, head of the Association of Journalists in Iceland.
Schram said the Supreme Court’s ruling worried and saddened her, because it hinders journalists doing their job.