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French concert promoters in court over collapse of Madonna stage set that killed two people

A French court on Wednesday handed suspended prison sentences to four people charged over the collapse of a stage as it was being set up for a 2009 concert by pop superstar Madonna, which killed two workers.

French concert promoters in court over collapse of Madonna stage set that killed two people
Two people died in the collapse at the Velodrome stadium in Marseille. Photo: AFP

Judges in the southern city of Marseille, where the concert was to take place, convicted the four of involuntary manslaughter and injuries, while acquitting three others ordered to stand trial.

Eight other workers sustained injuries in the accident, which occurred when one of four cranes putting up metal scaffolding for the stage knocked into the structure's roof.

Charles Criscenzo, 52, of France and Charles Prow, a 23-year-old Briton, were killed at Marseille's Velodrome stadium, and one of the injured workers committed suicide two years later.

Madonna herself did not appear at the trial, saying she was not involved in the technical details and denying any pressure to build the stage more quickly. She did present her condolences to the victims' families.

After a 10-year investigation, Jacqueline Bitton, 73, at the time head of the French operations for the US concert promoter Live Nation, received the most severe sentence, a suspended two-year prison term and a fine of €20,000.

Tim Norman, 65, head of the British firm Edwin Shirley Group (ESG) that owned the stage, received a suspended two-year term as well as a €15,000 fine.

A manager at a French subcontractor hired by ESG, Tour Concept France, was given a suspended 18-month sentence and a €10,000 fine, while a British foreman hired for the job by ESG got an 18-month suspended sentence.

Live Nation France was ordered to pay a €150,000 fine, and Tour Concept €50,000.

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French court orders Twitter to reveal anti-hate speech efforts

A French court has ordered Twitter to give activists full access to all its documents relating to efforts to combat racism, sexism and other forms of hate speech on the social network.

French court orders Twitter to reveal anti-hate speech efforts
Photo: Alastair Pike | AFP

Six anti-discrimination groups had taken Twitter to court in France last year, accusing the US social media giant of “long-term and persistent” failures in blocking hateful comments from the site.

The Paris court ordered Twitter to grant the campaign groups full access to all documents relating to the company’s efforts to combat hate speech since May 2020. The ruling applies to Twitter’s global operation, not just France.

Twitter must hand over “all administrative, contractual, technical or commercial documents” detailing the resources it has assigned to fighting homophobic, racist and sexist discourse on the site, as well as “condoning crimes against humanity”.

The San Francisco-based company was given two months to comply with the ruling, which also said it must reveal how many moderators it employs in France to examine posts flagged as hateful, and data on the posts they process.

The ruling was welcomed by the Union of French Jewish Students (UEJF), one of the groups that had taken the social media giant to court.

“Twitter will finally have to take responsibility, stop equivocating and put ethics before profit and international expansion,” the UEJF said in a statement on its website.

Twitter’s hateful conduct policy bans users from promoting violence, or threatening or attacking people based on their race, religion, gender identity or disability, among other forms of discrimination.

Like other social media businesses it allows users to report posts they believe are hateful, and employs moderators to vet the content.

But anti-discrimination groups have long complained that holes in the policy allow hateful comments to stay online in many cases.

French prosecutors on Tuesday said they have opened an investigation into a wave of racist comments posted on Twitter aimed at members of the country’s national football team.

The comments, notably targeting Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe, were posted after France was eliminated from the Euro 2020 tournament last week.

France has also been having a wider public debate over how to balance the right to free speech with preventing hate speech, in the wake of the controversial case of a teenager known as Mila.

The 18-year-old sparked a furore last year when her videos, criticising Islam in vulgar terms, went viral on social media.

Thirteen people are on trial accused of subjecting her to such vicious harassment that she was forced to leave school and was placed under police protection.

While President Emmanuel Macron is among those who have defended her right to blaspheme, left-wing critics say her original remarks amounted to hate speech against Muslims.

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