Case of European Court of Human Rights, May 18, 2004 (case CASE OF ÉDITIONS PLON v. FRANCE)

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Case of European Court of Human Rights, May 18, 2004 (case CASE OF ÉDITIONS PLON v. FRANCE)

SECOND SECTION

CASE OF éDITIONS PLON v. FRANCE

(Application no. 58148/00)

JUDGMENT

STRASBOURG

18 May 2004

FINAL

18/08/2004

In the case of Editions Plon v. France,

The European Court of Human Rights (Second Section), sitting as a Chamber composed of:

Mr L. Loucaides, President,

Mr J.-P. Costa,

Mr C. Bîrsan,

Mr K. Jungwiert,

Mr V. Butkevych,

Mr M. Ugrekhelidze,

Mrs A. Mularoni, judges,

and Mrs S. Dollé, Section Registrar,

Having deliberated in private on 27 May 2003 and 27 April 2004,

Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on the last-mentioned date:

PROCEDURE

1. The case originated in an application (no. 58148/00) against the French Republic lodged with the Court under Article 34 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms ("the Convention") by Editions Plon, a company incorporated under French law with its registered office in Paris ("the applicant company"), on 9 June 2000.

2. The applicant company was represented before the Court by Mr J.-C. Zylberstein and Ms A. Boissard, of the Paris Bar. The French Government ("the Government") were represented by their Agent, Mr R. Abraham, Director of Legal Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

3. The application was allocated to the Second Section of the Court (Rule 52 § 1 of the Rules of Court). Within that Section, the Chamber that would consider the case (Article 27 § 1 of the Convention) was constituted as provided in Rule 26 § 1.

4. By a decision of 27 May 2003, the Chamber declared the application admissible.

5. The applicant company and the Government each filed observations on the merits.

THE FACTS

I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE

A. Background to the case

6. On 8 November 1995 the applicant company acquired the publishing rights for a book entitled Le Grand Secret ("The Big Secret") from a Mr Gonod, a journalist, and a Dr Gubler, who had been private physician to President Mitterrand for several years. The book gave an account of the relations between Dr Gubler and the President, describing how the former had organised a medical team to take care of the latter, who had been diagnosed with cancer in 1981, a few months after he had first been elected President of France. It recounted in particular the difficulties Dr Gubler had encountered in concealing the illness, given that President Mitterrand had undertaken to issue a health bulletin every six months.

The book was due to be published in mid-January 1996, while President Mitterrand was still alive. However, following the President's death on 8 January 1996, the authors and Editions Plon decided to postpone its publication.

7. On 10 January 1996 the daily newspaper Le Monde published an article which revealed that President Mitterrand had been suffering from prostate cancer since the beginning of his first seven-year term of office and pointed out that the public had not been officially informed about his illness until 1992. The article also stated that President Mitterrand had dismissed Dr Gubler in 1994, choosing instead to be treated with medicine described by the applicant company as "alternative".

Those revelations were the subject of extensive comment in the media. Questions were asked, in particular, about the quality of the treatment received by President Mitterrand.

A former cultural adviser to President Mitterrand had already claimed in a book entitled L'Année des adieux, published by Flammarion in June 1995, that the President had not received proper treatment. In addition, shortly after the President's death, one of his brothers made similar allegations. The head of the cancer treatment department at the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital did likewise, in particular asserting on the radio station Europe 1 that "for years [President Mitterrand had been] given nothing but magical cures, and these techniques were completely ineffective in treating his illness".

On 12 January 1996, however, Le Monde published a statement by the President of the National Council of the ordre des médecins (Medical Association) to the effect that "according to the information in [his] possession, the President [had] received perfectly appropriate treatment". Furthermore, on 11 January 1996 the President's widow and children had issued a statement emphasising that they maintained their trust in the medical team that had looked aft...

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