Sport Opinion: France's attack on free journalism

18:55  25 november  2020
18:55  25 november  2020 Source:   dw.com

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The Macron government wants to make pictures of police officers on duty illegal. In a country where police violence occurs again and again, this is a great threat to press freedom, says Luisa von Richthofen.

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When the police intervene, a scenario unfolds that is all too well known in France, especially in Paris: there is shouting, jostling and kicking. Officials tear down the light blue tents. One of them is shaken until an exhausted man falls to the ground. There are repeated brutal attacks. With tear gas and clubs against misery. A police officer is filmed repeatedly beating a reporter. These are images that shake the whole country. And there are images that will soon be illegal to distribute.

An attack on freedom of the press

This is what is supposed to guarantee President Macron's new security law . The aim of the law is actually to protect police officers from violence. But for weeks the debate has focused almost exclusively on Article 24. This is the very order that makes it punishable in the future to take and distribute pictures of police officers "if they are likely to harm the mental or physical integrity of the officers ". There is a fine of up to 45,000 euros and one year in prison. The president has the next election in mind. He has been posing as a "law and order man" for months and wants to appeal to right-wing voters. But many see the new law as a shameful attack on freedom of the press. And rightly so.

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DW-Redakteurin Luisa von Richthofen © DW / P. Böll DW editor Luisa von Richthofen

Because police violence is no foreign word in France either. In the past few years there have repeatedly been enormous excesses of violence. For example in the case of Adama Traoré, who died in police custody at the age of 24. Or during the yellow vest protests: 344 head injuries, 28 destroyed eyes, five torn off hands and four dead - that was the sad result of the demonstrations. That does not mean that police officers are not also attacked and injured. But a democratic society has to support the people who document and publicize excessive state violence. The new security law makes that almost impossible.

Government adheres to the law despite criticism

The criticism reaches wider circles than just the French journalists' associations. Even the European Commission felt compelled to remind Macron's government that journalists should be able to do their work "freely and in complete safety". Amnesty International called the law "dangerous for fundamental rights". In response to this criticism, a sentence was added to Article 24 that it should not be interpreted to the detriment of the right to information. But that is nothing but a ridiculous fig leaf.

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The only way to protect freedom of the press would be to delete Article 24 entirely. Because if it is only about protecting police officers, it is superfluous. Threatening and insulting police officers, including in social networks, is already a criminal offense. So Article 24 does not bring anything new.

Law opens the door to abuse of power

In addition, Article 24 is too vague. This opens the door to abuse of power. After all, who assesses in a specific situation what may “endanger the mental or physical integrity of the officers”? Of all people, the person who is involved in the crime and who makes the arrest - the police officer! It is enough for the officer to feel threatened.

With the passing of this law, the police will be able to take action against people who, for example, film demos and broadcast them live on social networks. And even if the filmmaker or the journalists are not convicted afterwards: the filming was canceled. But precisely these recordings are important sources for documenting police violence.

No state arbitrariness against journalists

This law is dangerous. The French have so far lived in a free, democratic state, and it should stay that way. Because reactionary forces also strive for power. Any law that restricts fundamental rights now offers future governments the opportunity to make further cuts.

journalists shouldn't fear being arbitrarily arrested by the police. Not in France and not in Europe. It is sad that this is no longer a matter of course for Emmanuel Macron, who just a few weeks ago presented himself as a champion of freedom of expression.

Author: Luisa von Richthofen

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