Friday November 18, a bailiff came to the headquarters of Mediapart to deliver us an unprecedented judicial document in the memory of a journalist and a lawyer.
He orders us not to publish a public interest investigation at the express request of the personality concerned without Mediapart’s arguments having been solicited for a single moment. Mediapart was not informed of this procedure and the order was taken by a judge without our newspaper being able to defend its work and its rights.
Thus disregarding the principle of adversarial proceedings, this decision of prior censorship is an arbitrary act which uses, by diverting it, a procedure totally foreign to press law in order to infringe a fundamental freedom, governed by the law of July 29, 1881. .
Issued on the same November 18 by Violette Baty, Vice-President, acting as a magistrate delegated by the President of the Paris Court of Justice, Stéphane Noël, this order urgently granted a request filed the same day by the lawyer by Gael Perdriau, M.e Christopher Ingrain.
She urges us “not to publish under penalty of 10,000 euros per extract published” new revelations on the political practices of the mayor of Saint-Étienne, based in particular on the same recordings which allowed us to reveal the scandal of blackmail to the sextape of which his first centrist deputy, Gilles Artigues, was the victim.
The previous Mediapart investigations having brought to light this affair, under the pen of Antton Rouget, have not been the subject of any legal challenge. They caused a great stir in Saint-Étienne, in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, within the Les Républicains (LR) party and the government, and were widely covered in the national media.
They caused the resignation of the education assistant of the municipality and the dismissal of the director of cabinet of Gaël Perdriau, the mayor of Saint-Étienne announcing for his part his withdrawal (without resignation) from his functions of representation. at the town hall and at the metropolis, which he presides.
Above all, they led the Lyon public prosecutor’s office to open a judicial investigation entrusted to two investigating judges for “invasion of privacy, aggravated blackmail, embezzlement of public property by a person in charge of a public function, breach of trust and concealment of these offences”. Legal investigations are underway, after the first police custody in mid-September, including that of Gaël Perdriau.
Continuing his investigation, Antton Rouget discovered new facts which, again, call into question the practices of the mayor of Saint-Étienne, in particular in the use of rumor as a political instrument. But, this time, their victim is a notable figure on the right, Laurent Wauquiez, LR president of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, whose presidential ambition is notorious.
Like the previous ones, these revelations are based in particular on work conversations, held in the mayor’s office at the town hall of Saint-Étienne, and recorded in order to protect themselves by the victim of sextape blackmail, his first Deputy Gilles Artigues, all of whom were handed over to justice by the latter.
When we were notified of the prior censorship order, this investigation had not yet been published, even if we had fulfilled all our obligations, both professional and legal: its public interest, its factual and material basis, its respect for the contradictory .
Several personalities concerned by these new revelations, in the forefront of which Laurent Wauquiez, were approached and transmitted their reactions. Contacted at the beginning of the week by Antton Rouget to respond to these new facts, Gaël Perdriau had for his part requested an additional period until Friday November 18 at 1 p.m., which he was gladly granted.
Three hours after we had received, at 12:57 p.m. by e-mail, his detailed answers, a bailiff came to issue us the order not to publish anything, obtained by the same Gaël Perdriau from the president of the Paris court. The mayor of Saint-Étienne therefore knows very well what information he does not want to see published.
This prior censorship comes from a decision taken in urgency, if not haste, without public hearing or adversarial debate, in the secrecy of an exchange between only two people: the plaintiff’s lawyer and the president of the court. In its motivations, Gaël Perdriau’s request, which was thus satisfied, falsely invokes an invasion of privacy which we would have demonstrated, in a public hearing, that it does not exist at all.
At the start of the affair, at the end of August, the mayor of Saint-Étienne had already accused us – without however going to court, this time – of carrying out a “unpacking of [la] private life “ of his deputy Gilles Artigues, the victim of intimate video blackmail. We then replied that if there was any breach of Mr. Artigues’ privacy in this story, it was not our fault but attributable to the practices in force at City Hall.
Better still, when we had, in our previous articles, revealed extracts from the recordings that it is now impossible for us to publish, Gaël Perdriau had not initiated any procedure, thus recognizing the character of general interest of our information. However, the process, its circumstances and its context were the same, confirming the public interest of this information.
This expeditious procedure is based on two articles of the Code of Civil Procedure: article 493, which concerns all jurisdictions, according to which ” I“order on request is a provisional decision rendered without adversarial evidence in cases where the applicant is justified in not appealing to the opposing party” ; section 875, which comes under the “specific provisions for the commercial court” : ” The president can order on request, within the limits of the competence of the court, all urgent measures when the circumstances require that they are not taken contradictorily. »
To our knowledge, this exceptional means has never been used in a press case. In itself, the fact that one of the two articles of law invoked falls within the jurisdiction of the commercial courts underlines, to the point of absurdity, this abuse of procedure. In fact, the injunction not to publish served on Mediapart is addressed to the general manager of our company and not to its director of publication, who is nevertheless the only legal person responsible for the content of a newspaper.
Completely outside press law, the exceptional procedure chosen is intended, according to case law, to create “an effect of surprise” which, in this case, consists of nipping the publication of information in the bud without the newspaper being able to defend before independent judges the general interest which justifies its publication.
At the request of a political figure who is the main protagonist of a case subject to public debate and a criminal investigation, in which the methods used to destabilize a political rival are at the heart of the legal debate, the president of the Paris court therefore decided, in the solitude of his cabinet, to restore a weapon of the Old Regime against freedom of the press: prior censorship.
Except for periods of democratic eclipse, it is unheard of in our republican history since the law of July 29, 1881 which finally established in France, and still governs, the right to information and freedom of expression.
By proclaiming, from its first article, that “the printing press and the bookstore are free” without adding any restriction, in other words at the time by one of its legislators that “the press and speech are free”it meant that the fundamental right to impart information and opinions could not be interfered with a priori.
Putting an end to prior authorization, censorship and bail – the weapons used by all regimes to curb the freedom of the press – the 1881 law thus repealed in one fell swoop 325 articles of 42 previous press laws. and pardoned all sentences, without exception, pronounced in their name.
Its politically liberal provisions have enabled the gradual construction of a profoundly democratic jurisprudence, with specialized courts and magistrates, which ensures the protection of a freedom which is not that of journalists but that of citizens: the right to know everything that is of public interest.
The spirit that animates it is that it cannot be undermined by prohibiting the revelation in broad daylight of truths contributing to a general debate, however disturbing they may be. As for any abuses committed by the press in the exercise of this freedom, they can only be sanctioneda posterioriby independent judges, after a public and, we repeat, contradictory debate.
It is this essential democratic conquest, 141 years old, that is thrown to the nettles by the prior censorship of the Mediapart investigation by an order issued on request. As long as it has not been cancelled, this liberticidal act prevents our readers, and beyond that, public opinion as a whole, from knowing new facts in a major political scandal, of national scope.
This prior censorship is all the more alarming as it comes a few weeks after a similar decision handed down on October 6 by the Nanterre commercial court in the name of business secrecy: seized by the Altice group and its president Patrick Drahi, he did not hesitate to prohibit Reflets.info from publishing “new information”. The investigation site appealed.
We obviously asked our lawyer Mr.e Emmanuel Tordjman, of the Seattle firm, to implement all possible legal remedies to put an end, as soon as possible, to this prior censorship, in other words to this democratic disorder which is a serious attack on a fundamental freedom, “one of the most precious human rights”, according to article 11 of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. And so that you can finally discover the new revelations of Antton Rouget in the Saint-Étienne affair.