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France27 May 2006

Court gives green light for two journalists to be investigated in doping case

Reporters Without Borders today condemned a Versailles appeal court ruling confirming that Dominique Issartel and Damien Ressiot of the daily L’Equipe should be formally placed under investigation for “helping to violate the confidentiality of a judicial investigation” into the use of banned drugs by a cycling team.

The ruling is inconsistent with justice minister Pascal Clément’s promise to amend the 1881 press law to give journalists the right to protect their sources, the press freedom organisation said.

“This confirms an unfortunate tendency on the part of the judicial authorities to abuse the concept of ‘helping to violate the confidentiality of a judicial investigation’ to prevent journalists from probing sensitive issues,” Reporters Without Borders said.

“Journalists, by definition, are not sworn to secrecy about anything including a judicial investigation, and it is absurd to make them the scapegoats for leaks,” the organisation said, adding that, “the appeal court’s decision is an aberration that bodes ill for the future of press freedom in France.”

Investigative reporting by Issartel and Ressiot about alleged doping within the Cofidis cycle team led the Nanterre prosecutor’s office to begin a judicial investigation in early 2004. On 22 January 2004, the weekly Le Point published the full transcripts of the telephone tapping that had been carried out on Cofidis trainers and riders named in the case.

Nanterre investigating judge Katherine Cornier formally placed Issartel, Ressiot and three Le Point journalists under investigation on 12 and 13 October 2005 for “helping to violate the confidentiality of a judicial investigation.” This move followed on from the searches carried out at the two newspapers and at the homes of the journalists on 13 January 2005 in which computer hard disks and notebooks were seized.

Lawyers acting for the L’Equipe journalists had requested the withdrawal of these investigations on the grounds that they “do not comply with the European Convention on Human Rights,” in particular article 10, which guarantees the right of journalists to protect their sources. Article 109 of the French criminal code recognises the same right, but France was condemned by the European Court of Human Rights in January 1999 for using the concept of ‘helping to violate the confidentiality of a judicial investigation’ against journalists.

13.10.05 - Alarm as five journalists put under investigation in cycle team doping case

Reporters Without Borders said it was concerned and shocked after an examining magistrate in the Paris suburb of Nanterre placed five journalists under investigation on 12 and 13 October 2005.

Three journalists on the weekly Le Point, Christophe Labbé, Olivia Recasens and Jean-Michel Décujis, as well as two journalists on the sports daily L’Equipe, Damien Ressiot et Dominique Issartel, are accused of "violation of the confidentiality of investigation" in the Cofidis cycle team doping case.

"The right to protect sources, guaranteed by Article 109 of the criminal code and by article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, has once again been trampled on. It is shocking that journalists who were only doing their job should be put under investigation," the worldwide press freedom organisation said.

"The tendency of the courts to put pressure on journalists to reveal their sources is extremely intense at the moment in France, and in Europe, generally. On top of that, the journalists’ work does not appear to have impeded the investigation into the Codifis case.

"French law should urgently be amended to get rid of the concept of violation of the confidentiality of an investigation, which is an aberration, and only harms investigative journalists", said Reporters Without Borders.

“We would like to point out that the journalists that have been put under investigation are good journalists who have done their job well”, said François Malye, head of the editors’ group at Le Point. “Luckily for the profession, the journalists’ sources have not been identified, despite a misuse of technology", he added.

The Nanterre prosecutor’s office at the beginning of 2004 opened an investigation for violation of the confidentiality of investigation after Le Point on 22 January 2004 published the full telephone-tap transcripts ordered by the judge Richard Pallain in the cycle team doping case involving Cofidis trainers and riders.

L’Equipe on its part, on 9 April 2004, published lengthy extracts from the official interviews with several Cofidis riders, some of whom had been put under investigation.

Two virtually simultaneous searches were carried out, on 13 January 2005, at the premises of both publications as well as at the homes of two journalists on the daily sports paper. Their computer hard discs and diaries were seized and a source close to the two papers said the journalists’ phones were subsequently tapped by those heading the investigation.

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