This case follows the broadcast of a television news report entitled "Internet: serial liar" on M6, one of the main French national television channels.(1)
The report was about a woman who made people think for several years, via the Internet, that she was suffering from serious illnesses. For the production of the report, her doctor had been filmed using a hidden camera by two journalists who posed as her friends.
Following the broadcast, the doctor brought proceedings against M6 on the grounds that his image rights had been violated.
As its defence, M6 argued that the doctor's image rights had not been infringed as he was unidentifiable: his image had been blurred and his voice had been distorted. In any case, M6 claimed that the broadcast of the report was justified by two principles: the freedom of the press and the right to inform the public.
However, the Metz Court of Appeal ruled that the doctor's image rights had been infringed as, even though his face had been blurred and his voice had been distorted, several witnesses stated that they recognised him straight away because of his silhouette, his physiognomy and his office.
The court further ruled that the image rights infringement was unjustified. The sequence was preceded by a demeaning voiceover comment, which was not useful for the purpose of informing the public.
The case was brought before the Supreme Court.
First, the Supreme Court refused to rule on whether the doctor was identifiable in the sequence, as it considered that this question should be dealt with by the lower courts only (the Supreme Court deals only with questions of law, not questions of facts).
It is useful to remember that the Superior Audiovisual Council recommends that hidden cameras be used only in situations where the information cannot be obtained otherwise. It also insists on the public being informed of the use of hidden cameras, and that the anonymity of the persons and filming locations be preserved.
Second, the Supreme Court recalled that the freedom of the press and the right to inform the public permits the broadcast of the images of people involved in current events and news or illustrating debates of general interest. This principle has only one exception: the dignity of the persons must be preserved.
The court thus decided that the journalists' comments fell within the scope of the freedom of the press. Further, the journalists were found not to have breached the doctor's dignity. The court finally ruled that M6 should therefore not be liable to pay damages.
For further information on this topic please contact Camille Burkhart at Nomos by telephone (+33 01 43 18 55 00) or email ([email protected]s.com). The Nomos website can be accessed at www.nomosparis.com.