The Paris district Court has rejected all the claims brought forward by the Franco-Japanese, so-called “Sasakawa”, Foundation (FFJDS) in its libel suit against our colleague Karoline Postel-Vinay.
FFJDS was also sentenced to pay the court fees plus a sum of 5,000 Euros to Karoline Postel-Vinay for her legal costs.
In its ruling the Court first recalled the definition of defamation:
"Under the Act of 29 July 1881 “defamation” means any allegation or imputation of a fact which undermines the honor or reputation of the person or body to which the fact is attributed. "
It then spelled out the criteria used to distinguish between tortious defamation and legitimate expression:
"While defamatory statements are deemed, in law, to carry malicious intent, they may be justified when their authors establish their good faith by demonstrating that their purpose was legitimate and devoid of any personal animosity, and that they have complied with a number of requirements, including sound investigation and cautious expression.
These criteria are assessed differently depending on the type of texts at issue and the status of the persons authoring them; while less stringency may apply when authors of defamatory statements are not journalists professing to inform but individuals actually involved in the very facts they expose, no such leniency shall be extended to researchers expressing themselves in their own fields. "
Finally, the Court concluded that:
The FFJDS "claimed, wrongly, that none of the four criteria of good faith were met in this case.
It was indeed legitimate for a senior research fellow in international relations specializing in Asia, acting alongside others, on the occasion of a symposium organized as part of the 150th anniversary celebrations of Franco-Japanese diplomatic relations, to draw the attention of the symposium’s participants, the French Foreign Minister as well as various personalities and the media, to the potential problem posed by the fact that the main financial sponsor of the event should be a foundation whose designation included the name of a highly controversial figure of Japanese history; likewise it was legitimate to supply information about the said foundation and the figure whose name it bore, neither of which were necessarily known to the French general public.”
The Court thus considered that all the legitimacy criteria, namely legitimate purpose, absence of personal animosity, sound investigation and cautious expression, were met – thereby establishing that “the claim of defamation was unsubstantiated”.
In spite of this vindicating verdict by the French Court, clearly stating that there was no defamation and unambiguously condemning FFJDS’s action, the latter has nonetheless published a statement claiming the exact opposite, namely that the Court “has recognized the defamatory nature of Mrs. Karoline Postel-Vinay’s allegations” – a gross misrepresentation of the actual ruling.
Using the services of the French consulting firm CLAI, which in its own words specializes in "sensitive and crisis communication", FFJDS has widely disseminated its misleading statement among French and foreign journalists. Some actually received phone calls from FFJDS claiming it had secured a “victorious” verdict.
But we have no doubt that FFJDS will fail in its attempts at disinformation, just as it failed to intimidate the research community.
We applaud the decision of the 17th Court of the Paris district Court. We will disseminate the full text of the judgment as soon as it is available.