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French PM sues biography publisher for violating her privacy

By Michel Rose

PARIS (Reuters) - The French prime minister was accused of "censorship" at a court hearing on Wednesday reviewing her decision to sue the publisher of a new biography mentioning intimate details of her private life.

Elisabeth Borne, the 62-year-old former technocrat President Emmanuel Macron named last year to lead his cabinet, was little known to the public before being promoted to the job after five years as a second-tier minister.

The case has reopened a debate in France over whether the private life of politicians should remain outside the public eye.

In the book "La Secrete" (The Secretive One), written by the French journalist Berengere Bonte and published on May 4, the author mentions rumours about Borne being a lesbian, which the French prime minister has denied several times.

In the chapter entitled "The Cover", the journalist, who interviewed Borne twice for the book, reveals the name of the man presented as her companion in the press and says he was another woman's civil partner as recently as 2021.

Asked by Reuters, Borne's lawyer declined to comment on why the man was in a civil partnership with another woman and whether he was her current companion. Her office declined to comment.

The book also mentions the suicide of her father, a Jewish-born Holocaust survivor. It also describes Borne as a workaholic prone to outbursts and recounts that she had lost so much weight under stressful situations in previous jobs that it prompted concerns about her health among family members.

In breaking with precedent by other French prime ministers who refrained from suing journalists, Borne has asked judges to force the L'Archipel publishing house to cut about 200 lines in future editions of the book, which is already sold out.

"When a journalist describes in detail the conditions of my father's suicide, when she has intrusive comments about my intimate life, my relationship with my son, my ex-husband, when she spreads allegations on my health or sexual orientation, how can she pretend that was done with my consent?" she said.

"At some point, one just wants to say: 'enough is enough," she told Le Journal du Dimanche newspaper in an interview.

At the court hearing on Wednesday, the defendant's lawyer, Olivier d'Antin, said this was nothing less than "censorship".

As recently as the 1980s and 1990s, French media often refrained from publishing aspects of politicians' private lives, a form of self-censorship that was criticised after it emerged former French President Francois Mitterrand had kept secret the existence of a daughter taken care of by public money.

On Wednesday, Borne's lawyer said her client had always refused the "tyranny of transparency".

"Elisabeth Borne knows there is no democracy without freedom of the press," lawyer Emilie Sudre told judges. "She is asking for a measure which is not disproportionate."

"She arrived in the prime minister's office and nobody knew her," Bonte, the author, told Reuters. "So much the better if people discover who she is thanks to this."

A verdict is expected on June 30.

(Reporting by Michel Rose; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)