April 21, 2017

Candidates urged to defend media freedom and independence

French presidential candidates /AFP

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has met with the campaign staff of several of the French presidential candidates to draw their attention to its five leading concerns and to seek concrete undertakings from the candidates on freedom of information.

The media freedom NGO has requested meetings with all 11 presidential candidates or their staff because attacks on the media have been growing in the run-up to the election.

RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire has so far met with the staff of Benoît Hamon, Emmanuel Macron, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Marine Le Pen and Nathalie Arthaud. The other candidates have not as yet agreed to a meeting despite several approaches.

“Freedom of information deserves to be defended and is a key issue in the current context, marked by unusually violent attacks on the media and journalists,” Deloire said. “The increasing frequency with which we see journalists being obstructed in their work is unacceptable and unworthy of a great democratic country.”

The five major recommendations submitted to the candidates included the importance of knowing who owns the media and combatting the tendency for media ownership to be concentrated in few hands. Most of the French news media are now owned by just eight billionaire businessmen and industrialists whose core business activity is not reporting the news.

RSF also stressed the need to protect the confidentiality of journalists’ sources, which is essential in a democracy, and to combat the outrageous restrictions on access to state-held documents in France when they belong to the public and the public interest is served by making their content known.

Finally, RSF called for legislation that would penalize insider influence on news coverage and for measures to prevent abusive judicial proceedings against journalists.

Journalists targeted during campaign

Reporters at conservative candidate François Fillon’s meetings have been insulted and physically attacked and their equipment has been damaged. The climate has continued to worsen in the week before the first round of the elections, with journalists spat on and roughed up at a Fillon meeting in Nice on 17 April.

Far-right National Front candidate Marine Le Pen and far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon have also repeatedly lashed out at journalists during the campaign.

Reporters were roughed up at National Front meetings in February, when some of its leaders accused certain media outlets of bribing judges to get information. Mélenchon insulted several journalists at length at a rally in Paris in March.

RSF has meanwhile joined with the “Information is not a crime” collective in launching a petition for media independence to be guaranteed in France. The petition is entitled: “Liberty, equality, informed.” France is ranked 45th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World press Freedom Index.