Media reporting of trials in France and in Ireland

AuthorPascale Duparc Portier
PositionLecturer, Faculty of Law, National University of Ireland, Galway
2006] Media Reporting of Trials in France and in Ireland 197
This article gives an overview of media reporting of the
legal process in Ireland and in France.1 Media refers to various
means of disseminating information, among which are the press
or print media and newspapers. This article will limit itself to an
analysis of the latter, but broadcast media and/or audio-visual
media will be referred to during the course of the paper.2
It is always tempting to assume that different legal traditions
and, accordingly, different legal institutions and rules may
explain a different portrayal or representation by the media of the
trial and its practical manifestations. To a certain and limited
extent, and as we shall first see, this is true. Different legal
institutions and different legal rules govern the portrayal of trials.
Press freedom and public hearings are the main features in both
systems. However, legal ways of restraining excesses differ
Nevertheless, the differences should not be overstated. In
particular, Article 10 of the European Convention on Human
Lecturer, Faculty of Law, National University of Ireland, Galway. Readers
interested in discussing the issues considered herein or in English translations
of some of the French appearing in the footnotes are invited to contact the
author at
1 This article is partly based on the conference paper, “The Portrayal of Trials
by the Media in France and in Ireland,” by Dr. Pascale Duparc Portier (NUI,
Galway) and Dr. Laurent Pech (NUI, Galway) in the context of the conference
entitled Representations of Justice in France and Ireland, Trinity College,
Dublin, 9 December 2005.
2 See, e.g., Walker, “Fundamental Rights, Fair Trials and the New Audio-
Visual Sector,” (1996) 59(4) The Modern Law Review 517. It would appear
that broadcast coverage of trials in Ireland differs from that in France. In
Ireland, parties involved in trials, e.g., the parents of the victim in the Brian
Murphy case, contributed their views on television, however, in France
journalists tend to comment without inviting the parties involved to explain the
facts or decisions.
Judicial Studies Institute Journal [6:1
Rights (ECHR), dealing with freedom of expression and freedom
of the press, has led to a relative harmonisation of judicial
practices throughout Europe. It seems that journalists in Ireland
and in France sustain high standards of work ethics codified in
codes of conduct.
Moreover, from a more sociological point of view, in both
Ireland and France, we note a similar media interest for the same
type of litigation, i.e., criminal trials involving public figures
and/or abhorrent crimes. In both countries, excessive media
reporting has led to miscarriages of justice. In France, heavy
coverage of some paedophilia or incest cases may have led judges
to overreact. The public outcry at the reporting of some trials has
led the legislature to take action and reinforce a more control-
oriented society where more and more statutes try to deal with
criminal issues of public concern. Furthermore, media coverage
of challenging legal crisis enhances the need for criminal judicial
This article will first deal with the Irish and French legal
rules on freedom of expression and its competing rights. Second,
it will demonstrate that differences are levelled out thanks to the
European Court of Human Rights case law. Thirdly, it will show
how media reporting of trials, and particularly of criminal trials,
can affect legislation and trigger potential reforms.
Both France and Ireland provide for legal sets of rules
governing and limiting freedom of expression and its competing
rights. In France, there are numerous legal rules governing
freedom of expression. The right to freely express oneself is not
without limitations, however, and these limitations apply equally
to the print media. The French Freedom of the Press Act issued
on 29 July 1881 clearly states that the press is free to report
(Article 1).3 This statute is the principal legal basis for press
freedom. It is a liberal piece of legislation drafted by the law
makers of the Third Republic who were inspired by the
3Statute of 29 July 1881 on the freedom of the press; Article 1: “L'imprimerie
et la librairie sont libres.”
2006] Media Reporting of Trials in France and in Ireland 199
Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen,4 26 August 1789.
Article 11 of that Declaration states: “The free communication of
thought and of opinion is one of the most invaluable rights of
man: any citizen can thus speak, write, print freely, except where
it is tantamount to the abuse of this liberty as determined by the
This statute itself and French law in general also offers a
comprehensive set of rules restraining media freedom in the name
of several competing rights and interests. The Statute of 29 July
1881 has been amended and supplemented by a number of
subsequent statutes, including the Statute of 29 July 1982 on
broadcast communication6 and the Statute of 1 August 1986
amending the legal set of rules governing the press.7 Furthermore,
the important statute of 13 July 1990 on racism, called “Loi
Gayssot,”8 has added some more restrictions.
The right to press freedom has to face traditional competing
rights. As far as individual rights are concerned, the right to
privacy is of particular importance, the infringement of which is
sanctioned in the Civil Code.9 The tort of privacy exists and is
widely used both for individuals and for public persons. There is,
under French standards, an important body of case law which
interprets Article 9 of the Civil Code. Sanctions for privacy
4Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen.
5“La libre communication des pensées et des opinions est un des droits les plus
précieux de l’homme; tout citoyen peut donc parler, écrire, imprimer
librement, sauf à répondre de l’abus de cette liberté dans les cas déterminés par
la loi.”
6Statute no 82-652 of 29 July 1982 on broadcast communication (loi sur la
communication audiovisuelle).
7Statute no 86-897 of 1 August 1986, OJ 2 August 1986 (loi portant réforme
du régime juridique de la presse).
8 Statute no 90-615 of 13 July 1990.
9Article 9 of the French Civil Code provides that: “Everyone has the right to
respect for his private life. Without prejudice to compensation for injury
suffered, the court may prescribe any measures, such as sequestration, seizure
and others, appropriate to prevent or put an end to an invasion of personal
privacy; in case of emergency those measures may be provided for by interim

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