This Thursday 25 January, a lawsuit was opened against three newspapers (Mediapart, L’Obs and Le Point) and two NGOs (Sherpa and ReAct), who are accused of defamation by the Luxembourgian holding Socfin and its Cameroonian subsidiary Socapalm, for articles reporting on the mobilisation of villagers and farmers in West Africa who live near farms managed by these two companies. These companies have strong links to the Bolloré group, and Vincent Bolloré himself serves on their board of directors.
The lawsuit marks a new step in the judiciary proceedings launched by Bolloré and its partners against the media, non-governmental organisations and journalists who brought up what was going on behind the scenes regarding its economic and commercial activity in Africa, its links with the Luxembourgian holding Socfin, and the consequences of the large-scale land acquisitions.
Since 2009, no less than 20 defamation lawsuits have been launched by Bolloré or Socfin in France and elsewhere – circumventing the 1881 law on freedom of the press – against articles, audio-visual reports, reports by NGOs, and even a book. France Inter, France Culture, France Info, France 2, Bastamag, Libération, Mediapart, L’Obs, Le Point, Rue 89, Greenpeace, React, Sherpa… More than 40 journalists, lawyers, photographers, NGO leaders and media directors have been targeted by Bolloré and its partners (see the list below)!
In view of their scale, we estimate that the judicial proceedings are akin to “SLAPP” (Strategic Lawsuit against Public Participation) lawsuits. It is starting to become the norm for large multinational companies to launch these types of proceedings. Apple, Areva, Vinci and Véolia have recently filed lawsuits against non-governmental organisations or whistle-blowers. By piling up lawsuits on an unprecedented scale – even if it means abandoning them along the way –, the Bolloré group creates an almost automatic method of reprisal whenever their African activities are publicly mentioned. These legal proceedings against journalists are just one of the many constraints placed upon press freedom, which have now become typical of the Bolloré group. In 2014, for example, its communications agency Havas cut 7 million euros’ worth of advertisements from the newspaper Le Monde following an enquiry into its activities in Côte d’Ivoire. Not to mention the deprogramming or censoring of several documentaries that Canal+ (Vivendi group) was due to broadcast.
These systematic legal proceedings aim to apply pressure, financially weaken, and isolate any journalist, whistle-blower or organisation that brings to light the dubious activities and practices of economic giants like the Bolloré group. Its aim? To dissuade people from investigating and to silence them, so its “commercial secrets”, if they have potentially harmful consequences, remain under wraps. Here, public interest and freedom of expression are directly under attack. Local communities, journalists, charities, lawyers, and whistle-blowers… these lawsuits are targeting all these links in the rights defenders chain.
We as collectives, journalists, media outlets, and NGOs express our support for the journalists and organisations who will appear in court on 25 and 26 January, and all those who are being targeted by these SLAPP lawsuits. Reforms should be proposed in France to imitate other countries such as Québec, and some states in the United States and Australia, which aim to strengthen freedom of expression and provide better protection for victims of SLAPP lawsuits. Spreading information is not a crime! We will not be silent!
The signatories: Jean-Pierre Canet (journalist), Maureen Grisot (journalist), Benoît Collombat (journalist, Radio France), Nadia Djabali (journalist), Samuel Forey (journalist, L'Ebdo), Simon Gouin (journalist, Bastamag), Elodie Guéguen (journalist, Radio France), Pierre Haski (journalist, Rue 89), Dan Israel (journalist, Mediapart), Erik Kervellec (managing editor, France Info), Julien Lusson (former managing editor, Bastamag), Jacques Monin (journalist, Radio France), Jean-Baptiste Naudet (journalist, L’Obs), Nicolas Poincaré (journalist, Europe 1), Martine Orange (journalist, Mediapart), Fanny Pigeaud (journalist), Isabelle Ricq (photographer), Jean-Baptiste Rivoire (journalist, Canal+), Agnès Rousseaux (journalist, Bastamag), Ivan du Roy (journalist, Bastamag), David Servenay (journalist), Nicolas Vescovacci (journalist), Tristan Waleckx (journalist, France 2)
Media outlets and organisations: ActionAid France, Attac France, Bastamag, Collectif « Informer n’est pas un délit », Collectif « On ne se taira pas », Collectif des associations citoyennes, Crid, France Libertés, GRAIN, Greenpeace France, Mediapart, Ritimo, Sherpa, Survie, ReAct, Reporters sans frontières, SDJ de France 2, SDJ de Mediapart, SDJ de Premières Lignes, SDJ de Radio France, SDJ de Telerama, SDJ de TV5Monde, "Sociétés des journalistes" of France 2, Mediapart, L’Obs, Premières Lignes, Radio France, Télérama, TV5Monde and La Vie, Union syndicale Solidaires.
Ongoing and upcoming lawsuits:
- Defamation complaint of Bolloré against Jean-Baptiste Naudet (L’Obs): hearing originally scheduled on 14 December 2017, postponed at the requested of the complainant.
- Defamation complaint of Bolloré against Geoffrey Le Guilcher (Les Inrocks): Complaint rejected as inadmissible on 23 January 2018.
- Defamation complaint of Socfin against Dan Israel (Mediapart), and the ReAct and Sherpa associations: hearing scheduled on 25 and 26 January 2018 at the 17th Chamber at the Paris Tribunal de Grande Instance.
- Defamation complaint against Nadia Djabali, Ivan du Roy, Agnes Rousseaux (Bastamag), as well as Rue 89, and three bloggers having relayed the article – Thierry Lamireau (retired teacher, Dominique Martin Ferrari (journalist) and Laurent Ménard (woodcarver): acquittal on 14 April 2016, acquittal confirmed on appeal on 9 February 2017, Bolloré's cassation appeal (hearing in June or September 2018).
- Defamation complaint against Simon Gouin and Julien Lusson (Bastamag): hearing scheduled on 2 October 2018.
- Defamation complaint against Fabrice Lhomme and Gérard Davet (Le Monde): acquittal on 3 December 2015, acquittal confirmed on appeal on 22 September 2016, Bolloré's cassation appeal.
- Defamation complaint of Bolloré against Elodie Guéguen (France Info): acquittal on 5 July 2016, Bolloré's appeal (awaiting hearing).
- Defamation complaint of Bolloré against Benoît Collombat and Florence Sultan (Calmann-Lévy) for the book "Informer n’est pas un délit": awaiting hearing.
- Defamation complaint of Socfin against Greenpeace: awaiting hearing.
- Defamation complaint of Bolloré in France against France 2 and Tristan Waleckx: hearing on 3 April 2018.
- Defamation complaint of Socapalm (Socfin's subsidiary) in Cameroon against France 2, Nicolas Poincaré and Tristan Waleckx: awaiting hearing.
- Commercial complaint for denigration of Bolloré against France 2: awaiting hearing.
- Defamation complaint of Bolloré against Mediapart and Fanny Pigeaud: awaiting hearing.
- Preventive complaint for denigration of Bolloré against journalist Nicolas Vescovacci: awaiting hearing.
- Defamation complaint of Socfin in Sierra Leone against independent organisations Green Scenery (Sierra Leone) and Oakland Institute (United States) in 2013: ongoing proceeding.
- Defamation complaint of Bolloré agains Agence Ecofin. Acquittal on 15 June 2016, acquittal confirmed on appeal on 7 June 2017.
- Defamation complaint of Bolloré against Maureen Grisot and Renaud Candelier (France Culture): withdrawal of complaint on 10 March 2016 (21 days ahead of the hearing scheduled for 31 March 2016).
- Defamation complaint of Bolloré and Socapalm (Socfin subsidiary) against France Inter and Benoît Collombat : sentence on 6 May 2010 with acquittal for Socapalm.
- Defamation complaint of Bolloré against France Inter and Isabelle Ricq: withdrawal of complaint on 18 June 2010 (14 days ahead of the hearing scheduled for 2 July 2010).
- Defamation complaint of Bolloré against the Sherpa association: withdrawal of complaint on 5 June 2013.
- Defamation complaint of Bolloré against Benoît Collombat and David Servenay (Rue 89): withdrawal of complaint on 7 January 2014.
- Defamation complaint of Bolloré against Martine Orange (Mediapart): withdrawal of complaint on 9 December 2013.
- Defamation complaint of Bolloré against Libération and Fanny Pigeaud: Libération convicted for the photo caption on November 2014, acquittal of Fanny Pigeaud.