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CBS sued over broadcast of Princess Diana photograph

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CBS sued over broadcast of Princess Diana photograph

  • Mohamed al-Fayed, the father of Dodi al-Fayed, Princess Diana’s former boyfriend, has sued CBS over the broadcast of a photograph of the pair’s 1997 fatal crash.

April 29, 2004 — The father of Princess Diana’s former boyfriend filed a lawsuit against CBS last week, after the network broadcast a still photograph of Diana as she lay dying following a fatal car crash in 1997.

Mohamed al-Fayed, owner of Harrods department store in London and the father of Dodi al-Fayed, who also died in the car accident, alleges that CBS is liable for invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress because the network broadcast the photo on the news show “48 Hours Investigates,” Reuters reported on Apr. 17. The lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles.

The grainy black and white photograph, aired for a few seconds on the program, was of Diana just after the crash. No photographs of Dodi were shown.

A CBS spokesperson told Reuters that the lawsuit was “meritless, and we intend to vigorously defend ourselves.” The focus of the program was to examine various conspiracy theories surrounding the deaths of Diana and Dodi, several of them advanced by Mohamed al-Fayed.

“To the extent that it (the TV program) addressed Mohamed al-Fayed’s beliefs in a very skeptical manner, we find that to be inappropriate and we are considering our reaction to that,” said al-Fayed’s lawyer, Fred Gaines, according to Reuters. “We are examining whether we have appropriate claims for defamation at this point.”

Britain is currently conducting an investigation into the circumstances of Diana’s death. A French report concluded that the crash was caused by speeding and drunk driving by Henri Paul, who was also killed in the accident. Paul was attempting to help Diana and Dodi elude a group of photojournalists.

A cause of action for invasion of privacy or defamation is generally much easier to prove in Great Britain than in the United States. The American press is often protected from invasion of privacy lawsuits by the “newsworthiness” argument, by showing that the reported material is newsworthy.

The U.S. Supreme Court addressed the issue of what a public figure must prove to succeed in a claim of emotional distress in the 1988 decision Hustler Magazine v. Falwell . The court held that public figures must prove that the publication contains a false statement of fact, which was made with actual malice — a reckless disregard of falsity. The court rejected that an “outrageousness” standard should be applied in such cases, stressing that the First Amendment provides a high bar against such claims.


© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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