EU court raps France for fining journalists

8th June 2007, Comments 0 comments

STRASBOURG, June 8, 2007 (AFP) - Europe's human rights court ruled Thursday that France had violated the right to freedom of expression of two journalists fined over a book detailing the presidency's use of illegal wiretaps.

STRASBOURG, June 8, 2007 (AFP) - Europe's human rights court ruled Thursday that France had violated the right to freedom of expression of two journalists fined over a book detailing the presidency's use of illegal wiretaps.

Jerome Dupuis and Jean-Marie Pontaut were, unfairly convicted in France of using classified information obtained through a "breach of confidentiality" in their 1996 book "The Ears of the President".

The court pointed out in a statement that the book "satisfied a concrete and sustained public demand in view of the increasing interest shown nowadays in the day-to-day workings of justice."

Their book described an elaborate system of telephone tapping and record keeping carried out by the president's office between 1983 and 1986.

The court went on to urge France "to take the greatest care in assessing the need to punish journalists for using information obtained through a breach of ... professional confidentiality when those journalists were contributing to a public debate of such importance and were thereby playing their role as 'watchdogs' of democracy."

The book was published just days after president Francois Mitterand died, in January, 1996. It described the activities of an "anti-terrorist unit" at the Elysee presidential palace that in 1983 began wire-tapping and bugging activities.

The book was not the first France had heard of the operation.
 
In the early 1990s, the French media had published a list of 2,000 people who had been placed under surveillance, including public figures, journalists and lawyers.

In 1993 the deputy director of Mitterand's private office, identified as G.M., was placed under formal investigation for breach of privacy. He was later convicted and sentenced to a suspended prison sentence.

The two journalists were ordered by a French court to pay a fine equivalent to around 760 euros (1,020 dollars) and to pay 7,620 euros in damages to G.M.     

The French court also found publisher Librairie Artheme Fayard to be civilly liable, but the book continued to be published and no copies were seized.

The European court cautioned Thursday that "interference with freedom of expression might have a chilling effect on the exercise of that freedom."


Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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