Defending the indefensible: the French state's justification of press censorship in the Bettencourt affair

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In July 2013, Mediapart was ordered by a French court to remove all its published articles that cited secret tape recordings made by the butler of Liliane Bettencourt which provided evidence of how the late heiress to the L’Oréal cosmetics giant, suffering from dementia, was despoiled of part of her wealth by her close entourage. The tapes were at the centre of what became known as the Bettencourt affair and led to the convictions of several of those involved in the scam. Yet the censorship of the contents of the recordings remains, and Mediapart has challenged the ruling before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Mediapart publishing editor Edwy Plenel analyses here the French state’s submission to the ECHR in defence of the censorship, and highlights its absurd and contradictory attempt to justify the violation of the right to know.

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More than seven years after it first erupted, the so-called Bettencourt affair still has surprises in store. The latest is the unhesitating move by the French state to attempt to defend the indefensible before the European Court of Human Rights in the case that opposes it and Mediapart.