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Government allegedly violates law on confidentiality of sources

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders is very disturbed by "Le Monde"'s claims in a 13 September 2010 report that presidential aides directly violated the law on the secrecy of sources by using a domestic intelligence agency to identify an official who was leaking information about a judicial investigation into a case involving labour minister Eric Woerth and L'Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt.

"If the Elysée Palace really ordered government personnel to violate the law on the secrecy of sources in the Woerth-Bettencourt case, it would constitute a violation of press freedom as serious as tapping journalists' telephones," Reporters Without Borders said.

"We offer 'Le Monde' all our support in its determination to establish whether the government violated the confidentiality of sources," the press freedom organisation continued. "These allegations must be treated with the utmost seriousness. Reinforcing the protection of journalists' sources was one of Nicolas Sarkozy's campaign promises and a law was even voted in January. It would be intolerable if the Elysée Palace were the first to break a law requested by the president.

"We fail to understand the ruling party's war against media attempts to investigate the Woerth-Bettencourt case. Such behaviour is unacceptable in a democracy. Aside from the complaint that 'Le Monde' plans to file, parliament must look into these allegations and, if necessary, appoint a commission of enquiry to determine whether the Elysée violated the law passed in January."

According to the 13 September article in "Le Monde", David Sénat, an adviser to justice minister Michèle Alliot-Marie, was identified from phone records as the source of the leaks. He was asked to stand down and was offered a posting in Guyana, the report said.

Accusing the Elysée of using methods that "directly violated the law on the protection of the secrecy of journalists' sources" in order to put a stop to the leaks, "Le Monde" announced that it will file a formal complaint accusing unidentified persons of violating the law on journalists' sources. The Elysée Palace has denied the allegations.

Reporters Without Borders stresses that the law on the protection of sources nowadays constitutes one of the pillars of media freedom in France and is essential for investigative journalism. It would be unacceptable if the police intelligence services have been used to violate the freedom of information.

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