Physical violence, defamatory campaigns and threats against journalists and media outlets accused of bias or disinformation in their reporting of the Middle East conflict, grew alarmingly during the year. Security guards of the far-right National Front party several times roughed up journalists during the presidential election campaign. Strongarm methods used to prevent distribution of free newspapers was also a notable attack on freedom of information.
The courts handed down verdicts that seriously harmed press freedom and clashed with rulings by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which condemned France on 25 June for violating article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights about freedom of expression, saying the French public had a right to be informed.
The daily paper Le Monde appealed to the ECHR against its March 1997 conviction by the Paris appeals court for "offending" the king of Morocco under article 36 of the 29 July 1881 press law. Some French legislation needlessly and excessively curbs freedom of information. This includes the 1881 law, with its punishment for offending the president (article 26), offending foreign heads of state, foreign heads of government and foreign ministers (article 36) and insulting foreign diplomats (article 37).
The right of journalists not to reveal their sources was increasingly challenged, as shown by the tapping of the phones of seven journalists between 2000 and 2002 as part of police investigation of terrorist violence in Corsica.
At the end of the year, a senior reporter with the privately-owned TV station TF1, Patrick Bourrat, died on 22 December after being injured while covering US military manoeuvres at Udairi, in the Kuwaiti desert, in preparation for war with Iraq. The well-known journalist, who was 50, had covered wars in Lebanon, Kosovo and East Timor and was for several years the station’s correspondent in Jerusalem and then Moscow.
Two journalists arrested
Youssouf Touré, of the Malian state TV station ORTM, and his cameraman Boubakar Diallo were arrested on 30 December 2002 after filming the deportation of Malian illegal immigrants inside an Air France plane waiting to take off from a Paris airport. They had filmed police manhandling immigrants in the plane who objected to being deported. Police seized their videotape and arrested them for "filming in an aircraft and obstructing air traffic." They were held for two and a half hours before being freed after intervention by the Malian embassy. By the end of the year, their film had not been returned.
Journalists physically attacked
Cameraman Albert Putois was hit by a masked man while doing a report on 6 February 2002 for the Basque TV station ETB on a refugee camp at Sangatte, in northern France, and the movements of refugees trying to get across to England.
Jean-Louis Koroma, of the pro-independence New Caledonian station Radio Djiido, was set upon by militants of a section of the Caledonian Union, which is part of the pro-independence front FLNKS, on 12 February. They criticised his reporting of the funeral of a young Kanak who had been killed in shooting between the Wallis community in the Ave Maria neighbourhood and the Melanesian tribe in Saint-Louis. A tyre of the radio’s car was punctured and the journalists threatened.
Lucienne Moreo-See, editor of Radio Djiido, was attacked at her home on 13 February by two thugs who beat her. She said the attack was directly linked to her work. At the end of the year, the invesigation of the attack was still not complete.
The same day, Étienne Dutailly, founder and editor of the satirical monthly Le Chien bleu in Nouméa (New Caledonia), was beaten by two thugs who got into his office saying they wanted to discuss the problems of Saint-Louis. A police enquiry resulted in the formal questioning of several people. Dutailly had reported in the February edition of the paper that he had received mystery threats over the previous few weeks.
A team from the France 2 TV station was attacked by a group of youths in the poor neighourhood of Lille-Sud on 14February while doing a report on security aides. A member of the team, Blaise Grenier, was beaten and his equipment damaged. Two of the attackers were convicted at a summary court hearing.
The appearance on 18 February of the first free daily newspapers, Metro and Marseilleplus, and on 15 March 20 Minutes, sparked strong opposition from the CGT trade union, which said it was against any free newspaper published "outside the rules" of the printing and distribution industries. The union organised interception of the papers, which led to violence, including destruction of copies and attacks on delivery staff. On 5 March, 11 members of the editors’ committee of major regional daily papers condemned the violence in Paris and Marseilles that disrupted distribution of Metro and said the incidents were "in France, as elsewhere, unacceptable and serious attacks on freedom of information."
Meyer (his professional name), a photographer with the daily paper Libération, was attacked by a member of the extremist Jewish youth organisation Betar on 18March while covering the annual gala of the Association for the Welfare of the Israeli Soldier at a Paris sports stadium. He was standing near a group protesting against the occasion and was grabbed by riot police during an argument between the protesters and members of Betar. While he was in police hands, a Betar member punched him in the face. Meyer’s complaint was not followed up and an interior ministry enquiry cleared the police of responsibility.
Inigo Horcajuelo, a cameraman with the Spanish TV station Antena 3, was beaten up by security guards at a demonstration by Jewish organisations in Paris on 7 April. His colleague Carmen Vergara said he was attacked as he was filming a group beating up a youth and that the assailants took his film. Ten of the 14 journalists and technicians of the TV station France 2 covering the protest were attacked, including journalist Pascal Doucet-Bon. A cameraman from Guadeloupe was racially insulted and police intervened to protect the station’s bus.
Christophe Ferrier, a photographer with the Internet website photographie.com, was kicked on the ground by the demonstrators who tried to snatch his film and seize his equipment. Gilles Bassignac, of the Gamma photo agency, was attacked and hit in the face by security guards as he was about to photograph a group of militants who had agreed to pose. They also tried to destroy his equipment. Betar militants seized film from photographer Julien Sidery and threatened him.
A team from the TV station Canal+ was roughed up by security guards of the far-right National Front at a press conference by party leader Jean-Marie Le Pen at party headquarters in the Paris suburb of Saint-Cloud on 26 April. Journalist John-Paul Lepers was manhandled and assistant technician Yacine Ben Jannette was expelled from the room.
Jean-Luc Thomas, permanent correspondent of the TV stations I-télévision and Canal+ in Nice, was held for an hour and a half at National Front headquarters in Nice on 30 April, insulted by party activists and told to hand over his film. He had been given permission the day before by the party’s local press secretary to film preparations for the Front’s May Day demonstration in the city. Thomas filed a complaint for being held prisoner but the case was dismissed on grounds that "little harm" had resulted.
On 12 June, Thomas was beaten by six far-rightists, including two from the National Front, while covering a debate organised by the weekly Marianne, about whether the local Côte d’Azur department was "still part of France." His attackers tried to seize his camera.
Gabriel Gueguin, a soundman with the TV station TF1, was hit in the face by National Front security guards while covering the Front’s May Day demonstration in Paris. He had protested when the guards roughly shoved his cameraman.
The mayor of the eastern French town of Gélaucourt (Meurthe et Moselle), Michel Capdevielle, attacked Harmut Müller, a cameraman with the German TV station Saarlandischer Rundfunk, on 19 June, hitting him in the face with his camera before throwing it on the ground. The mayor also racially insulted one of the station’s journalists, Abdul Traoré. The journalists were doing a report on local opposition to the mayor, who had been accused of abusing his powers. The journalists and the station filed complaints against him for violence by a public official, damaging equipment and racial insults. Judgement in the trial was reserved until 17 January 2003.
Freelance German journalists, Kathrin Plümer and Carsten Bügener, were attacked by police in Strasbourg on 24 July while covering a meeting of the anti-racist "No Border" organisation. Bügener was kicked after being tear-gassed, while police seized film from Plümer. By the end of the year, it had not been returned.
Pressure and obstruction
The daily paper Le Monde reported on 30 January 2002 that the government had tapped the phones of six journalists in 2000 and 2001 - Jean-Pierre Rey, of the Gamma photo agency, Michèle Fines, editor-in-chief of the TV station France 2, Delphine Byrka, of Paris-Match, Roger Auque, a freelance working for Figaro magazine and TF1, Jean-Michel Verne, of France-Soir and Le Figaro, and freelance journalist Guy Benhamou. They were spied on as part of investigations by the government anti-terrorist service (DNAT) into violence in Corsica. Rey was arrested and held for questioning for four days in September 2001.
During the first half of 2002, about 30community TV stations were banned from broadcasting locally by analog signals. They included Zalea TV (Action for Broadcasting Freedom). The Higher Broadcasting Council had decided on 15 November 2001 to avoid granting licences during this period to temporary general-interest TV stations broadcasting news, saying it was not in a position to monitor all their content or deal with complaints that might arise under the rules of covering the elections due in 2002.
A Paris prosecutor called on 15 January for fines of 1,000 euros each for journalist Hubert Levet and two trade union militants working at the EADS defence industry company, Christian Saulnier and Jean-Pierre Jousseau, for "disclosing confidential financial material" and accused the editor of the financial daily Agefi, Eric Dadier, of illegally possessing such information. The Matra Aérospatiale group had filed a complaint on 22 September 1999 against Agefi for an article by Levet revealing the company’s half-yearly results two days before they were announced. The investigation involved searches of the paper’s offices and inspection of its phone records. On 13 February, the court dismissed the case against all four accused.
A court in Ajaccio placed five Radio France editors and journalists under formal investigation on 27 February for "racist insults" towards Corsicans or complicity in them after a satirical sketch about Corsicans was broadcast on 27 May 2001 by the radio station France Inter. They were Jean-Marie Cavada, head of Radio France, Yves Lecoq and Virginie Lemoine, presenters of the programme "Les agités du JT", as well as producer Christian Rose and Jacques Chiraz, author of the sketch. The journalists won the case, but the Unione Corsa in Antibes, which filed the suit, appealed. The head of France Inter, Jean-Luc Hees, had apologised on the air for the programme.
The communal police controlled by King Tomasi Kulimoetoke of Wallis, in the French Pacific territory of Wallis and Futuna, demanded on 21 March that Michel Bodineau, editor of the weekly paper Te Fenua Fo’ou, resign and shut down the paper because he had defied the king’s orders by printing an editorial about a scandal involving a local politician, Make Pilioko, who had been given refuge in the royal palace after being convicted in 1999 of embezzling public funds. Police seized a computer hard-drive and a modem from the paper, preventing it from publishing. Bodineau filed a complaint for "theft" and "obstructing press freedom." The computer parts were returned a few days later, but Bodineau closed the paper, despite outside mediation in the case.
The administration of the Lycée Henri IV secondary school in Paris banned distribution at the school on 25 March of the second issue of the paper Ravaillac after publication on 19 March of the previous issue about sexuality whose cover was a group photo of all the paper’s staff (including two consenting minors), completely naked except for opaque but removable patches covering their private parts. The paper’s staff were warned by the headmaster, Patrice Corre, and were heavily criticised by teachers. The paper was accused of incitement to indecency and disrupting activities at the school.
On 12 April, an examining magistrate finally dismissed a case against journalist and TV producer Arnaud Hamelin, who had videotaped confessions by a suspected secret fundraiser for the Rally for the Republic (RPR) party, Jean-Claude Méry. Hamelin, head of the Sunset Presse agency, had been arrested for questioning on 17October 2000 as part of investigation of former finance minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn for "removing a document from legal custody." He was questioned about how he had arranged the videotaping and how a transcript had ended up in the pages of the daily Le Monde on 22 and 23 September 2000. He was placed under formal investigation for "possessing legally confidential material." The investigation was closed in December 2001.
The editor of the monthly Objectifs Rhône-Alpes, Philippe Brunet-Leconte, and his deputy, Loïc Tanant, were ordered on 21 May by a Saint-Étienne court to pay 182,000 euros in fines and libel damages to member of parliament Christian Cabal for two articles in November and December 2000 that said he was involved in a regional banking scandal. The sentence, which included immediate payment of the money, threatened the existence of the magazine. The total amount was reduced on appeal to 40,000 euros on 12 June. The Lyon appeals court overturned the conviction on 2 October, citing serious procedural errors by the Saint-Étienne court.
The managing editor of the daily Le Monde, Jean-Marie Colombani, reporter Franck Joannès and Olivier Morice, a lawyer for the widow of Judge Bernard Borrel who died mysteriously in Djibouti in 1995, were respectively fined 500, 800 and 4,000 euros on 4 June by a suburban Paris court for libelling investigating judges Marie-Paule Moracchini and Roger Le Loire. In a 7 October 2000 article, Joannès had quoted a letter from Morice to the minister of justice criticising the two judges for the way they had handled the case.
Marc Tessier, head of the TV station France 2, and journalist Pascal Doucet-Bon, were fined respectively 7,500 and 4,500 euros on 25 June for slandering the deputy chief of the police investigations department, Roger Marion, but were exempted soon afterwards under the 6 August amnesty law. The station had broadcast a report on 26 September 2001 about arrests in Islamic fundamentalist and Corsican circles and said Marion was prepared to sacrifice the efficiency of enquiries where sensitive public security matters were concerned to satisfy his personal interests. The court said the journalist should have contacted Marion before the report went out.
A Paris court on 12 July acquitted France Inter journalist Daniel Mermet, and his boss, Radio France director-general Jean-Marie Cavada, who had been sued by the French Union of Jewish Students (UEJF), the French League against Racism and Anti-Semitism (Licra), Lawyers Without Borders and lawyer William Goldnadel for broadcasting remarks from listeners during a series of reports from Gaza and Israel. The judge dismissed the claims of "stirring up racial hatred" and "racial slander," saying that description of a conflict situation "inevitably includes voicing preferences." He added that the journalist had not in any way been anti-Semitic.
Mermet appeared before a Paris court on 10 September to answer a further charge of "stirring up racial hatred" brought by the same three plaintiffs, who accused him of re-broadcasting in 2001 a 1998 interview with a German doctor, Hans Münch, who once performed scientific experiments on prisoners in the World War II Auschwitz concentration camp in Germany. The interview aimed to discredit Münch, who was the chief assistant of Nazi doctor Josef Mengele and had been cleared in 1947 by a Krakow court that said he had saved Jews when Auschwitz was being liberated.
The programme, which was called "Such a nice Nazi" and put out on Mermet’s regular radio programme "Life on the other side," included racist remarks by Münch about gypsies, who he called "a wretched lot" and said "sending them to the gas chamber was the only solution."
Mermet himself had alerted Licra and the Movement against Racism and for Friendship between Peoples (MRAP) to Münch’s remarks and as a result Münch was tried and Mermet gave evidence in court against him. The case against Münch was initially dismissed on grounds that he was senile. On 19 September 2001, when the appeal was to be heard against the dismissal, Mermet broadcast the interview again to show that Münch was in fact lucid and coherent when he made the remarks. Münch was convicted on 17 October.
The plaintiffs, though not MRAP, then sued Mermet for stirring up racial hatred in the very tense atmosphere of the Middle East crisis by having re-broadcast the interview. On 15 October, a Paris court dismissed the case.
Two journalists of the community station TV Bruits were attacked by police on 27 September while filming culture minister Jean-Jacques Aillagon visiting the old Niel barracks in Toulouse. They were handcuffed, searched and physically threatened and police banned them from following the minister around during his visit to the city. Later that day, they and journalists of the community station Radio Radio were stopped from entering the building where the minister was to attend the inauguration of a cultural festival.
Laïd Sammari, a journalist with the daily L’Est républicain, was questioned by a judge on 31 October after filing a complaint on 5 July that police were invading his privacy. On 4 July, the daily Le Monde had published official records showing his phone had been tapped, on the basis of requests dated 11 January and 11 April by a judge attached to the government anti-terrorist service (DNAT), as part of its investigation into the murder of Corsican prefect Claude Érignac.
Three photographers, Jacques Langevin, of the Corbis Sygma agency, Christian Martinez, of the Angeli agency, and freelance Fabrice Chassery were referred on 20 November to a Paris court for invasion of privacy for taking pictures of Britain’s Princess Diana and her boyfriend Dodi al-Fayed in their car as they left the Ritz Hotel in Paris just before they were killed in a crash in the early hours of 31 August 1997. The photos were never published.
The French supreme court closed the file on the accident on 4 April 2002 after rejecting the appeals of Dodi’s father, Mohamed al-Fayed, and the family of the car’s driver. Nine press photographers who were following the car at high speed through Paris when the crash happened had already been cleared of charges of murder, manslaughter and failure to help at the scene of an accident.
Thugs smashed the windows and door of the offices of the Paris community station Radio Méditerranée in the early hours of 6December. Four large stones and three iron bars probably used in the attack were found in the debris as well as a star of David and the words "Long Live Israel!" were daubed on the front of the building. The station’s journalists had been regularly threatened, especially since the start of the second Palestinian Intifada. The front of the offices were daubed with slogans including "Radio Méditerranée = Nazi" during the night of 21-22 March and the radio’s chief, Taoufik Mathlouthi, had received death threats.
On 20 December, a Paris court banned the cable TV station Histoire from broadcasting 80 hours of hearings from the 1997-98 trial in Bordeaux of Maurice Papon, secretary-general of the Gironde department in southwestern France during the wartime Nazi occupation, who was sentenced to 10years imprisonment for complicity in crimes against humanity. The station had obtained official permission on 6 June to use the trial’s official film record and broadcast the 80 hours in January and February 2003. The court said the broadcasts, which would coincide with Papon’s appeal against his sentence, would "prejudice a fair trial."
The transmission mast of the Jewish community station Radio JM in Marseilles was sabotaged on 30 December. Broadcasts were restored the next day. Police in Marseilles opened a criminal investigation.