A drama series banned from French TV for breach of privacy

A drama series banned from French TV for breach of privacy


The drama series “Intime Conviction”, aired on television channel Arte and on Arte’s website, has been banned from broadcast in France. On February 27th, 2014, a French Court (the Tribunal de Grande Instance of Paris) ordered the broadcaster and Maha Productions (the producer) to refrain from further broadcasting the program after Dr. Jean-Louis Muller took legal action and requested summary judgment claiming that the program invaded on his right to privacy. The Court of Appeals of Paris confirmed the lower court’s ruling on February 28, 2014.

Dr. Muller, a forensic pathologist charged with his wife’s murder in 2001, inspired the series’ screenplay. Dr Muller was acquitted on October 31st 2013 by the highest French Criminal Court (Cour d’Assises of Meurthe et Moselle), and the decision is not subject to appeal.

The first part of the series was formatted as a television movie and broadcast on Arte on February 14th, 2014. The story revolved around a police investigation following the fatal shooting of a woman by her husband, a forensic pathologist, and his arrest for her murder. The second part of the series was scheduled to be broadcast on the Internet between February 14th and March 2nd, 2014 under the format of 35 short programs, retracing the proceedings before the Criminal Court. The trial was to be interactive and Internet users were throughout the proceedings invited to give their opinion on the guilt or innocence of the accused. The trial was to end with the broadcast of the verdict reached by Internet users.

However, the Court of Appeals of Paris prohibited the broadcast. The Court ruled that while certain facts relating to Dr Muller’s personal life may have been disclosed during his trial, those facts could not lawfully be used in a dramatized program (as opposed to a documentary or a news article) and that the facts were intermingled with fictionalized facts encroaching on Dr Muller’s personal life, without the program clearly distinguishing between reality and fiction.

In light of such decision, producers wishing to produce a drama program inspired by actual legal proceedings must therefore ensure that said legal proceedings, and the identities of the persons involved, are not easily recognizable by the viewers. If so, the producer must restrain from including the following in the drama program:

  • facts not disclosed during the legal proceedings to the extent they violate an individual’s right to privacy;
  • and/or fictionalized facts presented as actual facts, since it constitutes a violation of an individual’s right to privacy.