French media watchdog joins Le Monde press freedom lawsuit

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French media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said Tuesday it was joining a lawsuit filed by Le Monde newspaper over an alleged attack on press freedom by President Nicolas Sarkozy's office.

RSF said in a statement that its lawyer would take the necessary measures to join the legal action by Le Monde, which accuses Sarkozy's office of ordering an illegal probe into its reporting of a long-running scandal.

The paper says the probe order broke a law to protect whistleblowers by investigating the source of one of its stories on the L'Oreal affair, a complex inquiry into an alleged party funding scandal

It lodged a legal complaint after being told by police sources that intelligence officers studied the telephone records of a justice ministry official to see if he had leaked sensitive information.

Le Monde filed the suit against "X", a legal concept used in France when the persons responsible for an alleged violation are not known.

Sarkozy's office firmly denied it had ordered intelligence officers to trace the source of the leak to the paper, but France's national police chief confirmed an official had been accused of releasing restricted information.

The leak probe was the latest episode in an increasingly complex case surrounding France's richest woman, L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, who has been linked to alleged illegal funding of Sarkozy's campaign.

© 2010 AFP

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