In a case condemned by press freedom advocates, a French photographer has gone on trial for taking a photo of a man fatally injured in November's terrorist attacks in Paris.
Maya Vidon-White, a veteran photojournalist with a career spanning more than 20 years, was in the French capital when gunmen stormed a rock concert at the Bataclan theater on Nov. 13, ultimately killing 90 people at the venue.
While working as a freelancer for United Press International (UPI), she rushed to the scene where she took many photographs, including one of emergency workers outside the theater cradling a 30-year-old staffer of a French television channel who had been shot in the head while at the concert. The victim, named in French media only as Cédric G, was photographed with his face extensively bloodied. He died from his injuries.
According to the group Associated Reporters Abroad, Vidon-White's photograph was sold to UPI, which then sold it to a separate French photo agency, that in turn sold it to the magazine VSD.
On Nov. 17, the French magazine published the photo to accompany an article with another man named Cédric, aged 41, who described having to "crawl over bodies" in order to escape the Bataclan. The magazine did not specify that the man interviewed was not the man in the picture.
After the magazine hit the stands, Cédric G's family criticized VSD for publishing the photograph.
"The image is in color and not blurred," the family's lawyer, Jean Sannier, told BuzzFeed News. "You see blood and the impact of the bullet. This has shocked the family, who, moreover, knew he was already dead."
According to Sannier, Cédric G's autopsy report showed he had died by the time the photo was taken, although this has not been confirmed by Vidon-White's lawyers.
"The photographer could not ignore it," Sannier said.
Sannier also criticized VSD for publishing the photo, despite an appeal from French authorities not to publish crime scene photos.
Two months after the photo's publication, Vidon-White was informed she was to be prosecuted under a controversial French law that bans the publication of photos of victims on the grounds that it violates their rights to human dignity.
The so-called Guigou law, named for former Justice Minister Elizabeth Guigou, was passed in 2000 following earlier bomb attacks in Paris. In 1995 and 1996, the media published images of survivors with their clothes partly blown off from bombings. The broad law also came in response to the death of Princess Diana in the French capital in 1997, when paparazzi jostled to take photographs, which were never published, of the dead Princess of Wales in her car wreck.
Cédric G's family is seeking more than $38,000 in damages from VSD and Vidon-White, in addition to roughly $11,000 in legal fees.
"There are things that are not done, when one publishes this kind of photo and one decides not to blur the face and one maintains a confusion with an interview of a surviving victim, one must answer for his or her actions before a criminal court," Sannier said.
Appearing in court on Friday in Paris, lawyers for Vidon-White and VSD sought to have the case dismissed, arguing that the law requires a surviving victim to bring a case themselves.
"It's terrible, it's awful, but there is no infringement because the victim is not alive," argued Vincent Toledano, a lawyer for Vidon-White.
The judge will issue a decision on whether the case can proceed on May 20.
"I imagine these legal proceedings must be painful to hear for the relatives of the victim," the judge told the court.
In a press statement, the Associated Reporters Abroad group, of which the photojournalist is a member, also condemned the "overzealous" French prosecutors for "trying to make an example of Vidon-White to show to the grieving public – and the family of the victim – that they are taking action regarding the terror attacks, and twisting French law to do so."
"We believe that Vidon-White has broken no laws," the group said. "She took a photo of a victim of the attack who later died as part of her reporting; she did not publish the photo in France; she did not sell the photo to a French outlet – she sold it as part of a series to UPI in the United States. Afterward, she had no control over its resale or its publication."
The family is seeking more than $38,000 in damages, in addition to legal fees. An earlier version of this article misstated the amount sought.
David Mack is a reporter and weekend editor for BuzzFeed News in New York.
Contact David Mack at firstname.lastname@example.org.
David Perrotin est journaliste société chez BuzzFeed News France et travaille depuis Paris. Il écrit notamment sur les sujets liés aux discriminations.
Contact David Perrotin at email@example.com.
Cécile Dehesdin est la rédactrice en chef de BuzzFeed France et travaille depuis Paris.
Contact Cecile Dehesdin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.