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French #MeToo founder sued for slander by man she accused

Journalist Sandra Muller, who began the French answer to the #MeToo movement, is accused of slandering a media executive
AFP/File
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Paris (AFP)

The woman behind France's answer to the #MeToo campaign exposing abusive behaviour by men was to appear in court on Wednesday accused of slandering a media executive who she said had made lewd remarks.

Sandra Muller, a US-based French journalist, is being sued for defamation by senior French TV executive Eric Brion at a Paris court over a Twitter post accusing him of humiliating her with vulgar comments.

Both Muller and Brion, a media consultant and former head of TV channel Equidia, are expected to be in court when the hearing starts on Wednesday afternoon.

Muller started a viral hashtag in French in October 2018, #balancetonporc ("expose your pig"), which called on Frenchwomen to name and shame men in an echo of the #MeToo movement that began in response to allegations that toppled movie producer Harvey Weinstein.

In her Twitter post, she told of how Brion had humiliated her, saying: "You have big breasts. You are my type of woman. I will make you orgasm all night."

The post led to an outpouring of tales of harassment and assault, which were hailed as ending a culture of permissiveness in France towards unwanted advances.

After apologising for his remarks, Brion nonetheless decided to launch legal action against her.

He is asking for 50,000 euros ($55,000) in damages, 15,000 euros in legal fees ($17,000) and the deletion of the tweet where his name is mentioned.

"This is someone who acknowledged initially unacceptable conduct, who said sorry, and then suddenly decided to go to court," said one of Muller's lawyers, Francis Spinzer, before the start of the trial.

- 'Predator' -

But Eric Brion contends that two tweets in particular sent by Muller presents him as a "sexual predator", said his lawyer Nicolas Benoit.

"It is denunciation. At no time did he have the chance to defend himself."

In an op-ed in Le Monde newspaper late last year, Brion admitted making "inappropriate remarks to Sandra Muller" at a cocktail party.

But he also accused Muller of "deliberately creating ambiguity about what happened" by linking it to the response to the Weinstein affair.

He complained of the severe personal and professional consequences of what he said was a "conflation of heavyhanded flirting and sexual harassment in the workplace".

Many Frenchwomen made public their experiences of abusive behaviour by men in the wake of the #MeToo and #balancetonporc movements.

But there has also been controversy.

Last year a group of prominent French women, led by film star Catherine Deneuve, complained that the campaign against harassment had become "puritanical" and they defended the right of men to "hit on" women.

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