Mediapart can finally publish its new investigation into the mayor of Saint-Etienne, banned for 13 days. Justice ruled on Wednesday, November 30, thus canceling the order of the Paris court denounced as a “censorship” unpublished by the site, supported by many journalists and freedom of expression advocates.
Last Friday, the director of the investigative media, Edwy Plenel, came to ask the Paris court “to put an end as soon as possible to a unprecedented attack on freedom of the press ». But the case was put under advisement, to the disappointment of Mediapart, supported at the hearing by Reporters Without Borders, the International Federation of Journalists, trade unions, the League for Human Rights and associations of the judicial press and lawyers practicing press law.
In their viewfinder, an order, issued urgently by the same court on November 18, at the request of the mayor of Saint-Etienne, Gaël Perdriau (ex-LR), invoking an invasion of privacy, without Mediapart having could defend themselves. This decision prohibits him from publishing new information taken from an audio recording of the elected representative from Saint-Etienne, after a series of revelations on an intimate video blackmail case, “subject to a penalty of 10,000 euros per published extract”.
However, the Mediapart survey presents a “substantial public interest”, argued Edwy Plenelrecounting how a mayor uses “the poison of slander” as “political weapon to discredit” an opponent, Laurent Wauquiez, the LR president of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region. It was about “kill in the bud” a “serious slanderous rumor” and “without any foundation by the very admission of its propagator”, added the journalist. Above all, “it is not for the court to check beforehand information that has not been published”had insisted the lawyer of Mediapart, Emmanuel Tordjman. “It’s the gravity of your decision”he had launched to the magistrate Violette Baty, asking her to retract the order made by her.
“Legal disaster”, “heresy”… the lawyers for the various supporters of Mediapart had in turn castigated a decision “unpublished” who “pulverizes the right of the press” in force since 1881, considering that the judge had been “cheated”. “It is deeply unfair to say that our aim was to undermine freedom of expression”had for his part defended Me Christophe Ingrain, Gaël Perdriau’s lawyer, absent at the hearing, invoking the right to privacy.
Growing Attacks on Press Freedom
Yet it is the freedom of the press that is at stake, according to a text of support for Mediapart signed by around thirty journalists’ companiesincluding those of WorldAFP, Release or BFMTV. They are more generally concerned about the proliferation of “gag procedures” in France and recent lawsuits brought by the Altice group (SFR, BFMTV) against the Reflets news siteseen as “a diversion” press law. Chance of the calendar, the appeal hearing on this last case was scheduled for Wednesday in Versailles at 3 p.m., time at which Mediapart was fixed on the fate of its investigation.
Attacked before the commercial court for having published articles based on documents stolen by computer hackers, the Reflets site was prohibited from publishing new ones. This “prior censorship” laid “problem for all investigative journalists, most of the documents they use have not been published or communicated by their initial owners since this poses a concern for their image”, explains to Agence France-Presse (AFP) Antoine Champagne, the editor-in-chief of Reflets. Asked by AFP, Altice, who shares the same lawyer as Gaël Perdriau, did not wish to comment.
In reaction to the procedure targeting Mediapart, the centrist senator Nathalie Goulet tabled a bill last week guaranteeing that a publication cannot “be prohibited only in application of a judicial decision rendered contradictorily”. But “That doesn’t answer the question at all”laments to AFP Dominique Pradalié, the president of the International Federation of Journalists, who would prefer “provisions allowing much more serious sanctions to be taken against abuses of the freedom of the press, which are attacked from all sides”.