The Chelsea footballer Nicholas Anelka has lost a curious criminal defamation action against L’Equipe, the French sports daily arising out of the publication of his World Cup tirade at the national coach, Raymond Domenech. L’Equipe published a front page account of Anelka’s outburst at Domenech at half-time of France’s Group A game against Mexico in South Africa on 17 June 2010 (see right). According to the newspaper, when Domenech told him to play in a different way in the second half Anelka told the then France manager “go screw yourself, dirty son of a whore”, Anelka claimed that he never said those precise words, but was expelled from the team in disgrace, with his teammates then staging their infamous mutiny.
Anelka brought criminal libel proceedings before 17th chambre du tribunal correctionnel de Paris which gave judgment in favour of the newspaper on 1 July 2011. Anelka had claimed €150,000 in damages from L’Equipe. He insisted he had never said the precise words which had been published. The paper’s two journalists who had written the report – Raphael Raymond and Damien Degorre – claimed to have had four sources for the quotation.
L’Equipe advanced two defences. First, the total absence of defamation. They argued and after the incident no one had denied the accuracy of the words attributed to Anelka. Secondly, they argued that in all the circumstances – the national team in the middle of a World Cup – there was a public right to information as to what was said.
The trial lasted four hours but Anelka was not present. In dismissing the charge the tribunal president, Joel Boyer, pointed out that neither party, including Anelka, had denied that a dressing room altercation had taken place nor the substance of the insults hurled at Domenech. The Court dismissed Anelka’s claim that L’Equipe had been at fault by sensationalising its account by making it front page headlines. It held that the Court could not substitute its own decision as to how to deal with the information for that taken by the journalists. It was later announced that Anelka would not be appealing.
The full judgment does not appear to be available. The case, however, seems to illustrate that it is not only in England that bad defamation claims can be brought before the courts.