Friday, February 26, 2010

Another Strange French Libel Case

After yesterday's story of an editor being charged with criminal libel in France for publishing a negative book review, today brings the news that Patrick Devedjian is filing libel charges against Vincent Peillon for reading on the air a news item from 1965 reporting Devedjian's conviction following a fracas with police (h/t KirkMc). I guess I don't understand French libel law at all: if the conviction is true, how can mentioning it constitute libel? In any case, I've written to Maître Eolas to ask him to explain the law. I hope he does.

UPDATE: See here for a good explanation of the law.

8 comments:

Jules (de diner's room) said...

If you are interested, I've posted an article about this matter recently.

http://dinersroom.eu/4380/chatiments-et-crimes-a-propos-dune-affaire-politique/

The main idea is that the reporting of a past conviction may be a defamation if good faith can't be proven — good faith is not presumed in that case.

But truth is not an excuse if the convicted person has been legally rehabilited, or if the facts reported ar older than ten years.

Unknown said...

Thanks!

kirkmc said...

So according to this, if I were to publish, say, a biography of Patrick Devedjian, I would be found guilty of libel by stating the _fact_ that he was convicted of a crime?

Unknown said...

Kirk, Maybe a biography meets the "good faith" exception described in the article. If you're a pol attempting to discredit another pol, perhaps you're not acting in "good faith," whereas if you're a biographer trying to understand your subject, you are. Or something. Frankly, I have difficulty understanding what the "good faith" exception is intended to exclude. "Truth" would be a much more clear-cut criterion than "good faith."

kirkmc said...

Art, I agree. There's truth, and there's falsehood. It seems that truth should be the litmus test. Good faith or not, if you tell the truth, being punished just sounds Orwellian to me.

Unknown said...

Madelin says the facts aren't true: "Il aura donc fallu attendre la campagne des régionales et l'affaire Soumaré pour que l'affaire refasse son apparition. Une affaire dénoncée par la paire Madelin/Devedjian, qui entendent porter plainte pour diffamation. L'avocat d'Alain Madelin affirme : «Je ne sais pas si le Petit Varois a publié en 1965 une article de cette nature, tout ce que peux vous dire c'est que les faits ne sont pas vrais.» http://www.liberation.fr/politiques/0101621629-l-info-sur-le-passe-judiciaire-de-madelin-et-devedjian-sur-le-net-depuis-des-annees

That would be grounds for libel, I suppose, unless Peillon believed "in good faith" that the published story was true. Assuming it isn't. Ah, what a tangled web ...

kirkmc said...

So, let's see if I understand this. Other web sites have talked about this for a while, and they didn't complain about it. But now they are crying "Libel!" So the other web sites aren't responsible, and Peillon, who probably got the info from the other websites, is the bad guy? This is very confusing, and, to be honest, shows some weaknesses in the French legal system (if, indeed, Peillon can have responsibility for saying something that was reported in several locations recently).

Jules (de diner's room) said...

Actually, both "good faith" and "truth" are exceptions.

But, whereas "truth" affects the material element of infraction, "good faith" is all about "intention".

Now, there is a problem with convictions of crimes or privacy.

In the french law of free speech, you are not entitled to proove the truth of a passed conviction if it is older than 10 years, or if the author has been rehabilited. Truth couldn't be proven, assertions are necessarily false.

But, you can claim for good faith. Which supposes mainly that you wheren't motivated by anger, and that your expression was cautious.

It must be said that European court of human rights push France to enlarge the freedom of speech by limitating the restrictions of french law.