Lawsuit by French actor Gérard Depardieu involves threat to confidentiality of journalists’ sources, RSF warns

A French court decision ordering a news agency to surrender original video footage of comments made by French actor Gérard Depardieu during a visit to a stud farm in North Korea in 2018 could threaten the confidentiality of journalists’ sources, says Reporters Without Borders (RSF), calling for the order to be overturned on appeal

In the lawsuit, Depardieu contests the revelations of the weekly investigative programme on the French public TV channel France 2, “Complément d’Enquête.” According to its December 2023 edition, the actor made, during a trip in North Korea in 2018, comments of a sexual nature about a girl riding a horse. The documentary was produced by Hikari, a news agency. 

The court rejected some of the demands made by Depardieu in the lawsuit he brought against France Télévisions, the French public TV broadcaster in charge of France 2. But, on 30 May, the court ordered Hikari – “for the sake of transparency” – to provide the “recordings [...] corresponding strictly to the sequence filmed in the presence of Gérard Depardieu in the stud farm.” The court said Hikari had failed to demonstrate that this would result in a breach of source confidentiality.

The order is being contested by Hikari and France Télévisions. The public channel argues that handing over the original footage could allow the identification of its sources. Depardieu’s lawsuit questions the authenticity of the video footage, but France Télévisions points out that its authenticity has already been verified by a court expert at France Télévisions’ request.

“The court seems to have treated this as a simple issue of transparency between the parties to the dispute, but we point out that it could threaten the confidentiality of journalistic sources. Forcing journalists to provide their original footage in addition to the extracts broadcast could also set a legal precedent and increase the threat to this fundamental principle. We ask the appeal court to take account of the implications of such a decision. The order issued to the Hikari agency to hand over its recordings must be rescinded in the name of press freedom.

Thibaut Bruttin
RSF deputy director-general

The issue of the confidentiality of journalists’ sources, a cornerstone of press freedom, was already brought back to the centre of public debate in France last September by French investigative reporter Ariane Lavrilleux’s arrest. RSF responded by proposing specific ways to address the flaws in France's 2010 law on the confidentiality of journalists' sources. 

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