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US News Journalist Behind France’s #MeToo Movement Loses Defamation Case

17:55  25 september  2019
17:55  25 september  2019 Source:   msn.com

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a person sitting on a bench: The French journalist Sandra Muller was celebrated by Time Magazine as one of the “silence breakers,” the antiharassment campaigners it named as its 2017 Person of the Year. © Angela Weiss/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images The French journalist Sandra Muller was celebrated by Time Magazine as one of the “silence breakers,” the antiharassment campaigners it named as its 2017 Person of the Year.

The journalist who started France’s equivalent of the #MeToo campaign against sexual harassment was found by a court in Paris on Wednesday to have defamed a former television executive she had accused of making salacious and humiliating advances.

The journalist, Sandra Muller, who is based in New York, started #BalanceTonPorc, or #ExposeYourPig, in 2017 with a series of Twitter posts recounting her experiences with the executive and encouraging women to speak out against sexual harassment.

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Tens of thousands of women adopted the #BalanceTonPorc hashtag, spurring a wider discussion on gender relations and sexual norms in France.

Unlike many of the other women who came forward, however, Ms. Muller named the man she was accusing of harassment: Eric Brion, a media consultant and former executive at the public broadcaster France Télévisions and the horse-racing channel Equidia.

a man wearing a suit and tie smiling and looking at the camera: Eric Brion’s lawyers argued that his comments might have been a poor attempt at flirting, but did not meet the legal definition of sexual harassment. © Foc Kan/WireImage, via Getty Images Eric Brion’s lawyers argued that his comments might have been a poor attempt at flirting, but did not meet the legal definition of sexual harassment.

Ms. Muller said that during a social event at a television festival in Cannes, on the French Riviera, Mr. Brion told her: “You have big breasts. You are my type of woman. I will make you orgasm all night.”

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Mr. Brion did not deny that he had made inappropriate and crude comments, but said that Ms. Muller had been wrong to characterize them as sexual harassment and to tie his case to that of Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood mogul accused by multiple women of decades of abuse, including rape.

Mr. Brion argued that his comments had been made only once and under the influence of alcohol, and added that he had apologized soon afterward. He also stressed that although he knew Ms. Muller professionally — she works for an online news site that covers the media — they did not work together.

Months after Ms. Muller’s Twitter posts, Mr. Brion sued her for defamation. On Wednesday, Ms. Muller, speaking at a news conference held at her lawyer’s office in Paris, said that she would appeal the verdict.

Time magazine named Ms. Muller in 2017 as one of the “silence breakers,” a reference to the women who had come forward to accuse powerful men of sexual harassment and assault, in choosing them collectively as Person of the Year.

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French journalist Sandra Muller speaks during an interview with Agence France-Presse on October 16, 2017, in New York.   The top-trending hashtag #balancetonporc, started by Muller, brought forth stories from women of being sexually harassed at work or in the street. Muller began the hashtag recounting how her former boss had called her 'my type of woman' and then commented on her breasts.  / AFP PHOTO / Angela WEISS        (Photo credit should read ANGELA WEISS/AFP/Getty Images) © Getty French journalist Sandra Muller speaks during an interview with Agence France-Presse on October 16, 2017, in New York. The top-trending hashtag #balancetonporc, started by Muller, brought forth stories from women of being sexually harassed at work or in the street. Muller began the hashtag recounting how her former boss had called her 'my type of woman' and then commented on her breasts. / AFP PHOTO / Angela WEISS (Photo credit should read ANGELA WEISS/AFP/Getty Images)

In France, however, the #MeToo movement exposed a sharp social and cultural divide.

Last year, more than 100 women, including the actress Catherine Deneuve, signed a public letter denouncing the movement and arguing that its supporters and those of #BalanceTonPorc had created a totalitarian climate by publicly prosecuting private experiences.

At a court hearing in May 2019 for the defamation suit, Mr. Brion’s lawyers characterized Ms. Muller as a “usurper” of the fight for women’s rights who was motivated by personal animosity. Mr. Brion’s comments may have been a poor attempt at flirting, they argued, but they did not meet the legal definition of sexual harassment.

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Mr. Brion testified at the hearing that he had suffered a “descent into hell” after Ms. Muller’s posts on Twitter, adding that he was still taking medication for depression and that he had lost several business and job opportunities.

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“I became a pariah in my field,” Mr. Brion told the court, according to French news reports at the time. He described social media as a “grinding machine” where people “hidden behind their screen insult you, without you being able to defend yourself.”

Ms. Muller’s lawyers countered that her posts could not be considered defamatory because Mr. Brion himself had acknowledged making the comments.

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