How affairs of the heart became fair game for the press

The Observer

Twenty years ago, a French president could carry on extramarital activity in the knowledge that privacy laws and a respectful press would keep his secret. Editors and politicians colluded to ensure the public would never know. Love lives were strictly off limits to the media.

The pinnacle of this self-censorship came in 1994, when Paris Match magazine obtained photographs of Mazarine Pingeot, then age 20, the illegitimate daughter of President Francois Mitterrand and his lover, Anne Pingeot. In a move that still astonishes the British media, Paris Match had sought Mitterrand’s approval before publishing the pictures.

Today, France’s privacy laws remain as draconian as ever, but the celebrity press, battling with the Internet and social media, has become much less respectful. The reason is largely financial: Fines for breaking the privacy laws are paltry and soon offset by boosted sales.

In 2008 Closer, whose circulation fell from 493,000 in 2008 to 341,000 in 2012-2013, was ordered to pay €30,000 ($41,000) to former first lady Cecilia Sarkozy after showing her in a bikini looking at a picture of her successor, Carla Bruni. But last week’s special “Hollande Affair” edition of the magazine has sold out.