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Is the French government spying on journalists?

Is the French government spying on journalists?

Le Monde states in an article published today that Interior Minister Claude Guéant has confirmed that the Division Centrale du Renseignement Intérieur (DCRI) had illegally obtained his phone records of the paper's journalist Gérard Davet from his operator, which the publication declared was "en violation des législations sur les écoutes téléphoniques et la liberté de la presse" (In violation of laws pertaining to telephone-tapping and freedom of the press.)

What is more, an advisor within the Ministry of Justice was dismissed from his post and sent to French Guyana once the government learned that he had acted as a source for one of Davet's articles.

The Guardian reports on the recent front-page editorial published by Le Monde, which states 'the tracking of journalists had become "an affair of state" which lent credence to the suspicion that a cabinet noir, or office of shady operations, existed at the highest reaches of French power, namely the Elysée.'

Why has this journalist been persecuted? Well, it's all to do with L'affaire Bettencourt...

L'affaire Bettencourt
was initially nothing to do with the upper echelons of French politics. Initially, the scandal simply revolved around Liliane Bettencourt, the heiress to the L'Oréal cosmetics fortune, and her will. Madame Bettencourt had made provision for a certain celebrity photographer in her will. Said provision amounted to an enormous sum of money. Naturally, Bettencourt's daughter was not best pleased. She sued.

Unfortunately for her daughter Françoise, the story of Lilliane Bettencourt's fortune became ever more complicated. Secret recordings and information provided by former employees lead to allegations that Bettencourt had not exactly been playing by the rules: there were allegations that she had engaged in tax evasion and made illegal donations to the president's UMP party.

Thus, French President Nicolas Sarkozy was implicated in the scandal.

At the time, Eric Woerth was the Budget Minister and campaign fundraiser for Sarkozy. He is now the Minister of Labour, but he has still been forced to explain the role he and his wife - who previously involved in handling Bettencourt's finances - played in obtaining donations from Mme Bettancourt.

Woerth denies any wrong doing, stating "There is no confusion of any kind between what my wife does and what I do as budget minister. I hear talk that I have covered up some kind of fiscal fraud. Do I look like someone who would cover up a fiscal fraud?"

The truly problematic allegations for Sarkozy revolve around what happened when he and his administration learned that a journalist was about to break a story about the alleged illegal donations.

Back in November, The Editors Weblog reported on an article released in le Canard enchainé which accused Sarkozy of spying on journalists.

In the article, the satirical paper claimed : "Since the beginning of the year, at least, as soon as a journalist starts an investigation which could cause trouble for him or those close to him, Sarkozy has been asking Bernard Squarcini to get involved." Bernard Squarcini is head of the Division Centrale du Renseignement Intérieur (DCRI), the French internal security service. Now this has been confirmed, it appears that Sarkozy has some explaining to do.

In light of this affair, Reporters Without Borders has raised the valid question: are journalists truly a liberty to investigate governments?

Sources: le Canard enchainé , The Editor's Weblog, The Guardian (1), (2), (3) , Le Monde , Reporters Without Borders



Katherine Travers


2011-09-02 17:44

The World Editors Forum is the organization within the World Association of Newspapers devoted to newspaper editors worldwide. The Editors Weblog (www.editorsweblog.org), launched in January 2004, is a WEF initiative designed to facilitate the diffusion of information relevant to newspapers and their editors.

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