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French TV channel fined for reporting Bruni rumours

media Carla Bruni-Sarkozy is seen in front of a poster showing Benjamin Biolay. Reuters

A Paris court fined the France 24 news channel on Friday for reporting rumours that first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy was having an affair with a French pop singer. Judges ordered the publicly-funded television channel to pay 3,000 euros to the singer in question, Benjamin Biolay, after ruling that the coverage violated his privacy.

Biolay had sought 20,000 euros in damages over a 10 March broadcast that referred to speculation about his possible involvement with Bruni-Sarkozy. 

The judge downsized his compensation, but rejected France 24’s defence that its report was in the public interest.

In the programme in question, France 24 journalist Stanislas de Saint Hippolyte discussed international coverage of rumours surrounding the presidential couple, Nicolas Sarkozy and Carla Bruni, as part of a review of the day’s press.

In particular he mentioned reports in the Daily Mail, Telegraph and The Sun newspapers of Britain, and the Swiss Tribune de Genève, which printed pictures of Bruni and Biolay and referred to online rumours about a romantic involvement.

France 24’s lawyers argued that the exceptional volume of foreign coverage made it legitimate to include the story in its press review, and that not to do so would have constituted “self-censorship”.

They also pointed out that Saint Hippolyte clearly presents the reports as speculation, consistently referring to them as rumours “that are absolutely not official”.

But reporting things that had already been published and using the conditional tense “does not exonerate France 24 of its responsibility”, countered Biolay’s lawyer, Isabelle Wekstein.

“How is it in the public interest to refer to adulterous relations between Mrs Sarkozy and Benjamin Biolay?” Wekstein questioned.

The case starkly illustrates the differences between the media in France and that in other European countries.

France has one of Europe’s toughest privacy laws, which places strict limitations on what information or images journalists can publish about public figures’ private lives.

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