Times editors face libel charge in France

The Editor of the London Times is facing a criminal court in France for an article he published about the business activities and profits of the owners of The Daily Telegraph, the Barclay brothers.

Robert Thomson has been summoned to appear in French criminal court under the 1881 French law of droit de réponse (right to reply) for the report on the Barclays, written by The Times Media Editor, Dan Sabbagh.

Both Mr Sabbagh and Mr Thomson were served this week with a summons to go before a French court in Paris on June 23, when a date is likely to be set for their trial.

According to both London titles, the journalists could face fines if found guilty of charges laid out by Sir David and Sir Frederick Barclay.

In a report in their own newspaper, the brothers claimed this week that they were defamed by an article published in The Times on November 3, headlined, ‘Twins who swoop on owners in difficulty.’

The coverage of the Barclays, which observers suggest was part of an ongoing rivalry between the two newspapers, alleged that “rather than specialise in businesses in distress, the Barclays often take advantage of owners in distress to pick up assets on the cheap.”

The Barclays rejected these accusations and responded to The Times by saying they were untrue and defamatory.

They have since issued a statement explaining that their 15 business acquisitions since 1981 were all purchased from public companies or in open market competition, citing no asset acquisition from an individual “in distress.”

Yet they have also spotlighted that under French media law a newspaper must give a droit de réponse – right to reply - to any party it mentions, regardless if they have been defamed. They said they expected editions of The Times published in France to comply with the country’s legislation.

Meanwhile, Robert Thomson has hit out at the libel proceedings against him and his paper, saying shortly after receiving his summons that his trial under French law represents “a sad day for British journalism.”

He added that the Barclay Brothers “were quite entitled to bring a case under British libel laws, which are among the toughest in the world.”

Moreover, Mr Thomson hinted at the rivalry between the Times & The Daily Telegraph, when he commented on media tycoon, Hollinger International boss and former chief executive owner of the DT.

“Whatever his failings, it is difficult to imagine Conrad Black pursuing a criminal case of this kind in the French courts,” he said.


22nd April 2005

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