Bepanted shovel-toting farmer wins privacy payout from France TV

Unwitting star of #Slipgate viral images awarded reduced damages, tempts Streisand effect


Updated A French farmer who was filmed setting about bird conservationists with a shovel while in his underpants has won damages from a TV company that filmed the incident for violating his privacy.

The set-to originally occurred back in 2015, when a French bird conservation group called the Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux (LPO, or Bird Protection League in English) invited a group of journalists to accompany them as they investigated a farm in Audon in southwestern France for bird traps.

Bird trapping, in which songbirds are trapped using various techniques and later eaten, is mostly forbidden in France, but it is still practised in many regions either illegally or via legal exemptions issued for supposed small-scale trapping.

According to thelocal.fr, the group duly sneaked on to the farm and began removing what they claimed were illegal traps set for finches from an area planted with corn. They were then confronted by two men, including furious farmer Jean-Marc Dutouya, who appeared wearing just a blue T-shirt and a pair of blue striped underpants and wielding a long-handled shovel like a pike.

A fracas duly ensued between the bird enthusiasts and the farmers in which a number of LPO members alleged they were assaulted, Dutouya's octogenarian mother was reportedly shoved, and four vehicles had their tyres slashed.

For his part in the bepanted brouhaha, according to the Agence France-Presse, Dutouya was fined €400 in 2018 for violence with a weapon.

But footage of the scuffle shot by the journalists present went viral on the internet and Dutouya and his stripy pants became a sensation on Francophone Twitter, whose users referred to the incident using the hashtag #Slipgate (which translates to #Underpantsgate).

The livid Frenchman became the unwitting hero of countless memes in which his underwear-clad image – clipped from a photograph of the confrontation published by the Agence France-Presse agency – was superimposed onto unlikely surroundings, famous works of art and film scenes. One Twitter wag created an image in which the shovel was replaced by a lightsaber.

As a result of his unwanted fame, Dutouya sued national broadcaster France Télévisions – which had been among the journalists present and had shot video footage of the incompletely clothed contretemps – for breach of privacy and demanded damages of €200,000 for his bruised feelings, if not his chilly legs.

Yesterday (15 September) a court in the nearby town of Dax adjudicated in his favour, ordering France Télévisions to pay his legal costs and blur his image in their footage, but limiting his damages to only €10,000.

Following the victory, Dutouya's lawyer Frederic Dutin reacted with a measure of Gallic philosophy: "Can a man who is at home in his garden be thrown to the wolves in any old fashion? The courts say no."

The Register asked M.Dutin for further comment and he politely responded by sending us a copy of the judgment transcript, which can be read here [PDF] by those with suitably adept French.

While this could be considered purely metaphorical, wild wolves began recolonising France in the 1980s, having crossed from Northern Italy into South East France. There is evidence that they are now present in most of the south of the country, including the Landes department of the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region where Audon is situated.

The population is very small and the animals are very wary of humans, however, so if Dutouya were to be thrown to the wolves as his lawyer suggested, he would have to be thrown very carefully, as bird enthusiasts may wish to take note. ®

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