French courts are still giving priority to the confidentiality of the preliminary examination of a case, and to the principle of presumed innocence, over journalists’ rights to seek out and freely publish information. This persistently contradicts rulings of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which usually favours journalists’ rights on grounds that "safeguarding press freedom is in the interests of a democratic society." This practice of French courts saw journalists charged with or convicted of defamation in 2001 for writing articles investigating matters of public interest, such as scandals about illegal arms sales to Angola and contaminated blood transfusions. One magazine was accused of "jeopardising the presumption of innocence" under the new 15 June 2000 law for publishing a photo of former Elf Aquitaine oil company chief Alfred Sirven in the Santé prison in Paris. They were also accused "invading privacy," a new charge brought against the press photographers cleared in 1999 of involvement in the accidental death of Britain’s Princess Diana the year before.
The French supreme court meanwhile confirmed the existence of a new crime for journalists of being in possession of material violating the confidentiality of a preliminary legal investigation when it upheld the conviction of two journalists who revealed documents from an enquiry into the scandal of phone tapping ordered by the French presidency. Journalists are not legally bound by this confidentiality, as are judges, police and court clerks, or by professional secrecy, as are lawyers. So the offence of "possessing" material breaching such confidentiality emerged with the political-financial scandals of the 1990s and has since been a regular feature of court cases. In 2001, the supreme court confirmed this legal innovation even though the ECHR condemned France in 1999 in another case, saying that conviction of a journalist for possessing a document involving professional secrecy was undue interference by legal authorities in freedom of expression. The innovation also challenges the right of journalists accused of defamation to present proof of their allegations or details of their investigation. A journalist was convicted in May 2001 of having presented in his defence material from a judge’s preliminary investigation.
The right of journalists not to reveal their sources was challenged once more in September when Jean-Pierre Rey was held by police for questioning for nearly four days by the National Anti-Terrorist Service (DNAT). He was the fifth journalist to be detained in this way since 1 January 2000. The law of 15 June 2000 says people cannot be held for questioning unless there are "reasons to suspect they have committed or tried to commit an offence." The journalists held denounced what they called a form of pressure to get them to disclose information covered by the right not to reveal sources. RSF urged the government in September to amend the rules of criminal law procedure (article 109, paragraph 2) to better protect journalists’ rights not to reveal the sources of information gathered in the course of their work.
Against the background of the 11 September attacks in the United States and the US military operation in Afghanistan, the French broadcasting regulatory body, the Conseil supérieur de l’audiovisuel (CSA), announced in October "guidelines" to all radio and TV stations "concerning the handling of news about the present international situation," in which it asked them to pay very careful attention to civic values. The CSA, which ensures freedom of expression in broadcasting, only rarely pronounces on matters of news content, apart from its job of ensuring a balanced diet of political opinions on TV during election campaigns. The CSA guidelines stressed that, at a time of tension and conflict, it was especially important for stations to stick within the limits set by the law.
Two French special correspondents - Johanne Sutton (Radio France Internationale) and Pierre Billaud (RTL) - were killed in Afghanistan on 15 November when they ran into a Taliban ambush while on their way to Kabul in an armoured vehicle in a Northern Alliance convoy. This set off a debate in the profession about steps taken by governments, international organisations and the media itself to ensure the safety of war reporters.
Four journalists arrested
Véronique Lopez, a reporter with Politis magazine, was arrested by police at the Le Bourget International Air Show (in Seine-Saint-Denis department, north of Paris) on 24 June 2001 while covering a demonstration by a group of people opposed to the arms trade. She was held for four hours along with 10 of the demonstrators. Police took their fingerprints and photographs because, they said, "that’s what we do in Seine-Saint-Denis," and threatened those who objected to do so by force. The head of the French national police, Pierre Bergougnoux, said on 29 October that the officer in charge "apparently did not realise" Lopez was a journalist.
David Bowden (journalist) and Adam Cottam (a cameraman), of the British TV station Sky News, were arrested by police on 6 September as, using infra-red film in the dark, they followed illegal immigrants trying to make their way through the Channel Tunnel to England. The journalists were released after two hours of questioning.
Jean-Marc Costet, of the Lyons TV station Télé Lyon Métropole, was arrested on 2 November while covering a protest by journalists from the weekly Lyon Capitale against the visit to the city’s town hall of Chinese Vice-President Hu Jintao. He was held by police for nearly four hours.
Two journalists attacked
Étienne Dutailly, founder and editor of the satirical monthly Le Chien bleu, in Nouméa (New Caledonia), was attacked on 11 July 2001 by an unidentified person. He filed a complaint, believing the attack was because of his work as a journalist.
Police confiscated the video film of Ivora Cuzak, of the TV station Zaléa TV, as she was recording a police operation against a meeting of evicted or soon-to-be-evicted families held at the Antonin Magne sports centre in La Courneuve (Seine-Saint-Denis) on 8 November. As she was filming near the gathering, she was pinned against a barrier, her video camera seized and her microphone snatched and thrown on the ground. A few minutes later, her camera was given back, damaged and minus its film. After repeated requests to police stations in Saint-Denis and La Corneuve, the film was returned to her a few days later. She filed a protest on 9 November with the police complaints body, the IGS, about police brutality. The management of Zaléa TV filed another complaint with the IGS, for damage done to equipment.
Pressure and obstruction
Journalist and TV producer Arnaud Hamelin, head of the Sunset Presse agency, was summoned on 1 February for another hearing following his indictment in October 2000 for "possessing material protected by professional confidentiality." He had been detained on 17 October 2000 as part of the preliminary investigation of former finance minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn and "others" for "removing a document from legal custody." He had been questioned about how he arranged the video recording of a confession of a secret fundraiser for the Rally for the Republic (RPR) party, Jean-Claude Méry, and how the recording came to be published in the daily Le Monde on 22 and 23 September 2000. Hamelin was freed after two days but charged with possessing material protected by professional confidentiality. The investigation into the making and passing-on of the recording was closed in early December 2001 but by the end of the year, the investigating judge, Marc Brisset-Foucault, had not announced whether the journalist would be sent before a magistrates’ court.
From March, Bruno Franceschi, managing editor of the daily Les Nouvelles calédoniennes, in Nouméa (New Caledonia), and Marc Spisser, the paper’s editor, were regularly targets of intimidation. The paper also said most institutions and companies associated with the island’s ruling Rally for New Caledonia within the Republic (RPCR) were boycotting it where news and advertising were concerned.
Jacques Langevin, a photographer with the Corbis-Sygma agency, was charged on 21 May with "invading privacy" in connection with the 1998 death of Britain’s Princess Diana in a Paris road accident. He was accused of having taken photos of her and her boyfriend Dodi Al Fayed in their car after the crash. In subsequent weeks, eight other photographers who had chased after the car before it crashed, were similarly charged. If convicted, they face up to a year’s imprisonment and a fine of 300,000 francs (45,735 euros). The photographers were accused of manslaughter in 1998, but the charges were dropped two years later.
Gilles Gaetner, of the weekly magazine L’Express, was convicted on appeal on 21 May for having produced material from a judge’s preliminary investigation as part of his defence at his trial for libel. He had been initially found guilty in 1997 in connection with a 1995 article entitled "False invoices for a mansion" and pointing a finger at financier Michel Pacary. To support his case and to prove his good faith, he produced material from the preliminary investigation. He was charged with "possessing material protected by the confidentiality of the preliminary investigation," but the charge was dropped in 1999. He was eventually convicted on appeal on 21 May 2001 and given a suspended fine of 10,000 francs (1 524 euros). The magazine has appealed against the decision.
The offices of Les Dossiers du Canard Enchaîné in Paris were burgled on the night of 2-3 June. Safes were searched and the laptop computer of military affairs specialist Brigitte Rossigneux was stolen. Police immediately opened an enquiry. Rossigneux said the break-in might have been aimed at discovering the names of her contacts at the defence ministry. On 2 May, the magazine had reported that its offices had been watched on 21 March by someone driving a vehicle from the Paris police prefecture. The concièrge of the building had seen the man take a photo of the floor where the journalist’s office was. The enquiry was put in the hands of the interior ministry’s police complaints body, the IGS, and on 18 May, the police prefect, Jean-Paul Proust, told Reporters Without Borders in a written reply to a letter, that the vehicle was used by at least two police officials, one of whom was based in a nearby part of the city but who habitually parked near the magazine’s offices at lunchtime. Neither person matched the description given by the concièrge, he said, and "reiterated strongly that no-one under his command had been involved at any time in any kind of surveillance of Le Canard Enchaîné. "
The criminal section of the supreme court rejected on 19 June the appeal of journalists Jean-Marie Pontaut and Jérôme Dupuis, authors of the book "Les oreilles du Président" (The Ears of the President) about the scandal of phone tapping by presidential officials. The court’s decision confirmed the existence of a new crime for journalists of being in possession of material violating the confidentiality of a preliminary legal investigation.
After a complaint from Armelle Thoraval, of the daily newspaper Libération, a preliminary investigation was begun in July of a private detective who allegedly entered the journalist’s home, looked into her personal life and stole her bank statements. The detective was reportedly employed by officials of the French National Students’ Benefit Society (MNEF). Thoraval had been investigating embezzlement in the MNEF.
Robert Edmé, an Associated Press (AP) photographer, was refused accreditation to cover a Franco-Spanish ministerial meeting in Toulouse on 11 and 12 July, apparently at the behest of the French interior ministry. Edmé, who has worked for Basque-language regional publications, is often prevented from covering international events in France by being refused official accreditation. His accreditation badge was withdrawn at the start of a European Union ministerial meeting in Biarritz on 13 October 2000. Twelve other journalists from Basque-language media were also refused accreditation for the meeting.
Jean-Pierre Rey, a reporter-photographer with the Gamma agency who specialises in Corsican affairs, was arrested by the National Anti-Terrorist Service (DNAT) in Paris on 3 September. He was not freed until just before expiry of the four-day legal limit for detention in terrorism cases. He said his detention was not justified by the required "serious reasons" to suspect he had committed an offence and that judges and police had tried to get him to reveal information, including his sources. Over the previous 20 months, four other journalists had been detained in this way. Hubert Levet, a regular contributor to the economic daily Agefi, was arrested on 14 December 1999 after the management of the firm Aérospatiale-Matra had filed a complaint against "persons unknown" for "disclosing confidential financial information." He was held and then charged by an investigating judge from the financial section of the Paris high court. On 1 May 2000, Victor Robert, of the CAPA news agency, was detained at the offices of the DNAT in Paris and questioned in connection with an attack on a McDonald’s restaurant in Quévert, in Brittany. On 17 October that year, journalist and TV producer Arnaud Hamelin, head of the Sunset Presse agency, was detained for two days and then with "possessing material protected by professional confidentiality." On 16 January 2001, Dominique Paganelli, of the TV station Canal +, was detained at DNAT offices and interrogated as part of an enquiry into attacks in 1999 on public buildings in Ajaccio, in Corsica.
Serge July (managing editor) and Armelle Thoraval (journalist), of the daily Libération, were convicted by the Paris appeals court on 13 September of libelling Michel Garetta, former head of the National Blood Transfusion Centre, in an article that appeared on 1 December 1998. The paper’s lawyer, Jean-Paul Lévy, said the court forbade the journalists to produce documents covered by legal confidentiality that proved the seriousness of Thoraval’s investigations. The paper has appealed against the decision to the supreme court.
The day after the US began bombing Afghanistan on October 7, the company Spot Image said it had been reminded by the French defence ministry of restrictions banning it from distributing and broadcasting pictures of Afghanistan and surrounding countries, such as Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan (but not China). Spot Image spokeswoman Sandrine Franck-May told Agence France-Presse on 19 October that the firm had to "hand over all the material we distribute to the defence ministry and we don’t give any more pictures to the media. Our only customer for pictures of Afghanistan is the French defence ministry." By year-end, these restrictions were still in force.
A 10 kg bomb exploded during the night of 21-22 October on the first floor of an annex of the offices of the daily Corse-Matin, in Aleria, in Corsica, but did little damage. No-one claimed responsibility.
A dozen journalists were barred from a meeting about citizenship featuring presidential candidate Jean-Pierre Chevènement at Collège Diderot, in Petit-Quevilly, near Rouen, on 25 October. Police told journalists they were being kept out by order of the rector of the educational district.
On 7 November, the broadcasting regulatory body, the CSA, reminded the Qatari TV news station Al-Jazeera to respect the terms of its agreement with the CSA allowing distribution of its programmes in all European Union countries. The CSA said Al-Jazeera was showing footage without looking at it first or putting it in context and was broadcasting "inaccurate news" without making "the necessary corrections" later. The criticism came in response to a complaint by the CSA’s British counterpart, the Independent Television Commission (ITC). The station’s agreement with the CSA was signed in 1999 and renewed in July 2001. CSA president Dominique Baudis said in a letter to Reporters Without Borders on 20 November that the CSA was paying "equal attention to how all the TV stations involved respected their commitment to standards and rules, either by continuous monitoring of programmes or by public opinion polls, without any discrimination."
Serge July (managing editor) and Karl Laske (journalist), of the daily Libération, were found guilty by the Paris magistrates court on 13 November of libelling former interior minister Charles Pasqua in a 23 December 2000 article suggesting he had been involved in supplying arms to Angola in violation of the law governing arms sales to foreign countries. The newspaper has appealed against the conviction.
Serge July (managing editor) and Armelle Thoraval (journalist), of the daily Libération, were convicted by the Paris magistrates court on 14 November of libel in an article that appeared on 15 February speculating on the role of a judge, Jean-Louis Hérail, in the shelving of a case involving businessman Pierre-Joseph Falcone, which three years later proved to be at the centre of an investigation into illegal arms sales to Angola. The paper said the Falcone case was dropped in exchange for a cash donation to the Professional Magistrates’ Association, to which Hérail reportedly belonged. The paper has appealed against the conviction.
Anne-Marie Couderc, managing editor of the weekly magazine Paris-Match, was found guilty by the Paris magistrates’ court on 20 November and fined 6,098 euros for having published on 12 April a secretly-taken picture of former Elf Aquitaine oil company chief Alfred Sirven in the courtyard of the Santé prison in Paris. The photo showed him behind the walls and barbed wire of the prison with the caption "Exclusive: Sirven in the Santé." The court said that under the new article 35 (3) of the 1881 press law, added by the law of 15 June 2000 to strengthen the protection of presumption of innocence, "publishing, without their permission, an identified or identifiable picture of a person involved in a criminal case but not yet convicted and showing them in temporary detention" was punishable by a fine of up to 15,240 euros. The court said the law took priority over the argument that the right to inform was more important in the case of a special event.
Jean-Marie Colombani (managing editor) and Fabrice Lhomme (journalist), of the daily Le Monde, were found guilty by the Paris magistrates’ court on 5 December of libelling a judge, Jean-Louis Hérail, by suggesting in an article on 31 March that he had shelved a case about illegal arms sales to Angola involving businessman Pierre-Joseph Falcone in exchange for a cash donation to the Professional Magistrates’ Association, to which Hérail reportedly belonged. The court said "the facts in the article are not individually libellous, but taken together they are because of the implications that can be drawn from them." The paper has appealed against the conviction.
Béchir Ben Yahmed (managing editor) Marcel Peju (journalist), of the weekly magazine Jeune Afrique-L’Intelligent, were convicted by the Paris magistrates court on 12 December of defaming the French army in an article on 27 February entitled "Homage to the collaborators?" criticising President Jacques Chirac’s decision to create a national day to honour the harkis, the Algerians who fought on the side of the French in the war for Algeria’s independence. The two journalists were fined 2,286 euros and ordered to pay a symbolic one franc in damages to the plaintiffs, the French Army Support Association. The judge called the article "thin ... not the product of serious investigation" and "an offensive caricature."
Philippe Amaury (managing editor) and Gérard Davet (journalist), of the daily Le Parisien, were found guilty of libel on 14 December, fined 3,049 euros and ordered to pay one franc symbolic damages to Philip Séguin, a Paris mayoral candidate of the Rally for the Republic (RPR) party at elections in March. Séguin had filed a complaint after the paper ran an interview with Greens leader Yves Contassot on 30 May 2000 headed "The shadow of cheating around Tibéri." The court ruled that Séguin was depicted in it as being, as an RPR member, "the beneficiary of a system of electoral fraud that also enabled him to receive certain fringe benefits."