We won’t be silenced by Bolloré gag suits!

Today, a court in Paris will begin hearing the defamation suit that the Luxembourg-based holding company Socfin and its Cameroonian subsidiary Socapalm have brought against three French media outlets (Mediapart, L’Obs and Le Point) and two NGOs (Sherpa and ReAct) over articles about protests by rural residents and farmers who live near plantations run by these two companies in West Africa.

The two companies are closely linked to the French conglomerate Bolloré, whose chairman and CEO, Breton businessman Vincent Bolloré, sits on their boards.

A Paris court yesterday dismissed the latest of many lawsuits by the Bolloré group against the Paris-based weekly magazine Les Inrocks. But tomorrow’s case marks a new stage in the lawsuits brought by the Breton billionaire and his partners against media outlets, NGOs and journalists who try to shed light on his business activities in Africa, his links with Socfin and the consequences of their large-scale land acquisitions.

Since 2009, more than 20 defamation suits have been brought in France – or in other countries in order to circumvent France’s 1881 press freedom law – by the Bolloré group or Socfin in response to articles, TV reports, NGO reports and even a book. The targets of these actions have included France Inter, France Culture, France Info, France 2, Bastamag, Libération, Mediapart, Rue 89, Greenpeace, ReAct and Sherpa. More than 40 reporters, photographers, media lawyers, NGO representatives and media CEOs have been involved (list below).

Because of their scale and systematic nature, we regard these legal actions as “gag suits” – lawsuits designed to suppress criticism. Big multinational corporations are increasingly resorting to such procedures. Apple, Areva, Vinci and Véolia have all recently sued NGOs or whistleblowers.

By bringing defamation suits with such unprecedented frequency – even when they are abandoned mid-course – the Bolloré group is now retaliating in an almost automatic manner to any public reference by outsiders to its African activities.

These lawsuits are reinforcing the other methods of obstructing media freedom to which the Bolloré group resorts. In 2014, for example, the group’s advertising agency Havas tried to withdraw advertising worth more than 7 million euros from the newspaper Le Monde after it ran a story about Vincent Bolloré’s activities in Côte d'Ivoire. Canal+, a TV channel owned by the Bolloré entertainment company Vivendi, has censored or suppressed current affairs documentaries before they were broadcast.

Systematic lawsuits of this kind aim to pressure, financially weaken, and isolate any journalist, whistleblower or NGO that tries to shed light on questionable activities by big corporations such as Bolloré. The goal is to silence them and deter investigative reporting in order to protect “business confidentiality,” especially when the business activity concerned could have bad consequences for some.

They constitute direct attacks on the public interest and freedom of expression, and they target local communities, journalists, grass-roots groups, lawyers and whistlelowers – all the links in the chain for defending rights.

We – grass-roots collectives, journalists, media outlets and NGOs – offer our support to the journalists and NGOs who will be in court on 25 and 26 January, and to all those who are the targets of such gag suits. France needs legislative amendments akin to those adopted in Quebec province and in certain US and Australian states that strengthen freedom of expression and provide better protection for the targets of gag suits. Providing information is not a crime! #We won’t shut up!

Societies of professionals journalists of : AFP, BFM TV,

Challenges, Les Echos, Europe 1, France 2, France 3, Le Monde, L’Humanité, Libération, L’Obs, Mediapart, M6, Premières Lignes, Radio France, RMC, RTL, Télérama, TF1, TV5Monde, La Vie.

Ongoing and upcoming cases :

- Defamation suit by Bolloré against Jean-Baptiste Naudet of L’Obs: hearing initially

scheduled for 14 December 2017, postponed at the plaintiff’s request.

- Defamation suit by Socfin against Dan Israel of Mediapart and the NGOs Sherpa and ReAct:

hearing scheduled for 25 and 26 January in Paris.

- Defamation suit against Nadia Djabali, Ivan du Roy and Agnes Rousseaux of Bastamag,

against Rue 89, and against three bloggers for reposting the article: acquittal on 7 April

2016, acquittal confirmed on appeal on 12 February 2017, court of cassation appeal by

Bolloré to be heard in June or September 2018.

- Defamation suit against Simon Gouin and Julien Lusson of Bastamag: hearing scheduled

for 2 October 2018.

- Defamation suit by Bolloré against Elodie Gueguen of France Infos: acquittal on 5 July

2016, appeal by Bolloré (not yet heard).

- Defamation suit by Bolloré against Benoît Collombat and Florence Sultan of the Calmann-

Lévy publishing house over the book “Informer n'est pas un délit”: not yet heard.

- Defamation suit by Socfin against Greenpeace: not yet heard.

- French defamation suit by Bolloré against France 2 and Tristan Waleckx: not yet heard.

- Commercial defamation suit by Bolloré against France 2: not yet heard.

- Cameroonian defamation suit by Socfin subsidiary Socapalm against France 2, Nicolas

Poincaré and Tristan Waleckx: not yet heard.

- Defamation suit by Bolloré against Mediapart and Fanny Pigeaud: not yet heard.

- Preventive defamation action by Bolloré against the journalist Nicolas Vescovacci: not yet


Past cases :

- Defamation suit by Bolloré against Maureen Grisot and Renaud Candelier of France

Culture: suit withdrawn on 10 March 2016 (21 days before a hearing scheduled for 31

March 2016).

- Defamation suit by Bolloré and Socfin subsidiary Socapalm against France Inter and

Benoît Collombat: conviction on 6 May 2010, acquittal for Socapalm.

- Defamation suit by Bolloré against France Inter and Isabelle Ricq: suit withdrawn on 18

June 2010 (14 days before a hearing scheduled for 2 July 2010).

- Defamation suit by Bolloré against the NGO Sherpa: suit withdrawn on 5 June 2013.

- Defamation suit by Bolloré against Benoît Collombat and David Servenay of Rue 89: suit

withdrawn on 7 January 2014.

- Defamation suit by Bolloré against Martine Orange of Mediapart: suit withdrawn on 9

December 2013.

- Defamation suit by Bolloré against Libération and Fanny Pigeaud: Libération convicted for

photo caption, Fanny Pigeaud acquitted.

Published on
Updated on 25.01.2018