Paris Supermarket Hostages Sue Media for Broadcasting Hiding Place

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A woman lights candles in front of the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket at the Porte de Vincennes in Paris. Survivors of the January 9 attack are suing French television channel BFMTV for endangering their lives. Charles Platiau/Reuters

On January 9, Amedy Coulibaly entered a Hyper Cacher supermarket in eastern Paris and killed four of the 16 hostages he claimed he had before he was "neutralized" by special forces. During the attack, some shoppers hid in the kosher grocery's refrigerator for safety. Now, the six who rode out the attack in the cold room are suing the French 24-hour news channel BFMTV for broadcasting their location during the crisis.

Live media coverage of the attack "lacked the most basic precautions," Patrick Klugman, the lawyer representing the hostages' families, told Agence France-Presse. Their lives, he said, "could have been at risk if Coulibaly had been aware in real time what BFMTV was broadcasting," especially because Coulibaly was tuning into various channels during his raid.

Coulibaly had in fact spoken with journalists at BFM while he was holding hostages in the supermarket in Porte de Vincennes, telling them that he had attacked that particular supermarket because he was targeting Jews and acting to defend "oppressed Muslims."

"It's a miracle that there weren't other deaths," Klugman told the Associated Press. "At one moment, the information got out, and it was absolute panic. For those who were down below and for their loved ones, that could have meant the end."

The supermarket siege came just two days after gunmen killed a dozen people in an attack on the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Another hostage situation at a print-works building in Dammartin-en-Goele was unfolding simultaneously.

"You nearly made a huge, huge mistake, BFM," said one woman whose husband had been hiding in the refrigerator, speaking on the air the day after the attacks, but without giving her name. "The terrorist was watching BFM.… Fortunately he did not see that, otherwise my husband and the five others would be dead."

A few days later, after the gunmen had all been apprehended, France's Higher Broadcasting Council, the country's broadcast watchdog, met with executives from television and radio stations to discuss the shortcomings in their coverage of the attacks. In real time, the regulator had warned media to "act with the greatest discernment."

BFM deputy editor Alexis Delahousse told the AP in January of his decision to reveal the hideout of a woman in the cold room that "police said it was OK to say this, as she was no longer in danger.… If Coulibaly had gone to the back to get to the cold room, police said they would have been able to neutralize him or shoot him." BFM had not responded to the AP's request for comment on Friday regarding the lawsuit.

The Paris prosecutor's office has opened an investigation of the coverage for potential charges of "putting others' lives in danger," spokesman Agnes Thibault-Lecuivre said Friday.

Klugman said the goal of the lawsuit is not to extract financial damages but rather to make the media accountable for its actions and to ensure that future coverage does not endanger other lives.