Full case report

Radio France & Ors v France

Reference (2005) 40 EHRR 706
Court European Court of Human Rights

Judge Baka (President), Loucaides, Birsan, Jungwiert, Ugrekhelidze, Mularoni, and Truche JJ and Dolle (Section Clerk)

Date of Judgment 30 Mar 2004


Summary

Defamation – Libel – French law – Article 7 ECHR – Article 6 ECHR – Sanctions – Requirement to broadcast findings – Freedom of expression – Article 10 ECHR


Facts

The applicant radio station carried bulletins reporting on allegations published in a French magazine. It alleged that a former deputy mayor of Paris, M Junot, had supervised the deportation of a Jews in 1942. Defamation proceedings were brought against the station, its publication manager, and the journalist who read out the story. French law presumed the broadcast to be false and in bad faith, and did not permit a defence of justification on these facts, but the defendants could and did advance a defence akin to ‘Reynolds’ privilege. The Paris Criminal Court, upheld by the Paris Court of Appeal, rejected the defence. The manager and journalist were fined and the company ordered to broadcast a report of the judgment every 2 hours for 24 hours. An appeal to the Court of Cassation was dismissed. The applicants argued that the French court’s decisions involved breaches of Articles 6, 7 & 10 ECHR.


Issue

(1) Whether the decisions involved an unforeseeable extension of the law, in breach of Article 7.
(2) Whether the proceedings violated Article 6(1) and/or 6(2) by applying an irrebuttable presumption of liability on the part of the publication manager.
(3) Whether there was a violation of Article 10.
(a) in finding the applicants liable when, as they argued, they had done no more than repeat what other publishers had said
(b) in applying the sanctions, and in particular the order to publish the judgment.


Held

(1) There was no breach of Article 7. The domestic courts’ interpretation of the law was a clarification consistent with the nature of the offence and reasonably foreseeable.
(2) There was no breach of Article 6. French law presumed the publication manager was responsible for a defamatory broadcast, but did not presume liablility. It was a defence to prove good faith, lack of animosity, reasonable enquiry and measured expression.
(3) There was no breach of Article 10.
(a) Protection for reports on matters of public interest is conditional on accuracy and compliance with the ethics of journalism. The bulletins did not satisfy these conditions.
(b) The sanctions were necessary and proportionate.


Comment

The decision has several significant features. It emphasises more clearly than any previous case that an individual’s right to a reputation is not just a Convention value, it “is among the rights guaranteed by Article 8 of Convention”. It is clearly relevant to ‘Reynolds’ cases for Strasbourg to confirm that the graver the defamatory allegation the greater the degree of journalistic care and responsibility that must be shown, if Article 10 is to be invoked without proof of truth. The decision on the sanction is also relevant to the relatively uncharted waters of the court’s discretion, on summary disposal applications, to order a defendant to publish a summary of its judgment (s.9(2) of the Defamation Act 1996).


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