Suit by Princess's Sister Backfires

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Angel Diaz / EFE / AP

Telma Ortiz (top row, far right) asked a court to bar media outlets from filming her, arguing she is not a public figure and news organizations have been harassing her.

Pity the shy, retiring girl whose sibling marries above her station. Yesterday a judge in Toledo, Spain ruled that, like it or not, Telma Ortiz, sister to Princess Letizia — and hence sister-in-law to the heir to the Spanish throne — is a public figure. According to the court, she is not entitled, therefore, to keep the paparazzi away.

When commoner Letizia Ortiz married Prince Felipe in May 2004, the former journalist not only catapulted herself into the glossy pages of Spain's hungry gossip magazines, but took her unsuspecting family members with her. None of them, not Letizia's teddy bear of a divorced-but-dating father, nor her firebrand of a grandmother, nor even her tragic youngest sister Erika, who killed herself in February 2007, got as much attention as Telma. Young, pretty, apparently good-hearted (she works for the Red Cross) and best of all unattached, Telma made perfect fodder for what the Spanish call "the pink press." When she showed up at the royal wedding looking lovely in a pale apricot suit and a broad-brimmed hat that would have done Lady Astor proud, the rags could barely contain their ecstasy.

For years, Telma Ortiz lived and worked in the Philippines, and the tabloids had to content themselves with only occasional glimpses of what Hola magazine dubbed "one of the most eligible women in Spain." But a boyfriend and a pregnancy brought her home in January, and with that return came such illuminating features as "Telma on a Motorcycle," and "Telma Knows How to Keep Her Skin from Getting Shiny."

Apparently, it was all too much, especially once she gave birth to a daughter at the end of March. On April 1, Ortiz filed suit in a Toledo court, requesting a restraining order against 57 magazines, websites, and television shows. "The permanent siege that Telma Ortiz and her partner suffer 24 hours a day is unbearable," said her lawyer Fernando Garrido earlier this week. "We can't go along with the fact that Telma has to live her postpartum in hiding, in a hell like she is living now, just to avoid being photographed."

The media were predictably outraged. "She is trying to silence the media, almost by decree," complained royal watcher Jaime Peñafiel, in his weekly column for El Mundo newspaper, which was not included in the suit. "Who does she think she is?"

Well, apparently she's somebody. The Toledo court took just two days to rule that, willingly or not, Telma is indeed a public figure and therefore not protected by a 1982 law that prohibits the publication of images of private individuals without their consent. "It was a very poorly formulated suit," says Peñafiel. "If she feels like her privacy has been invaded, she should sue the individuals responsible on criminal charges, not try to get 57 institutions — most of whom have treated her with exquisite respect — barred from taking her photo. The judge acted correctly; this is a victory for freedom of the press."

Ortiz will be forced to pay the defense's legal expenses, and she's likely to suffer in other ways as well. "This will have a boomerang effect," adds Peñafiel. "She's going to get exactly what she didn't want, which is to become more famous." Perhaps anticipating that effect, Ortiz and her partner have already put in a request with the Red Cross to return them to jobs in Asia, far from the Spanish paparazzi. Or at least that is what the pink press is reporting.