Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reiterates its call for the repeal of French legislation criminalizing the receipt of leaked information after labour minister Muriel Pénicaud reacted to the publication of leaks in Libération about the government’s proposed labour law reforms by filing a criminal complaint against persons unknown.
Repeal of the criminal code article under which receipt by journalists of leaked confidential information is treated as receipt of stolen goods was one of the key recommendations that RSF submitted to candidates during the presidential election campaign.
The repeal of this provision was part of the “Bloche Law” that the National Assembly approved last year but it was subsequently struck down by the Constitutional Council.
According to the French criminal code, the act of possessing or transmitting something “knowing that this thing is result of a crime” itself constitutes the crime of receiving stolen goods.
If the labour minister were to bring a complaint against Libération, it would imply that the newspaper’s journalists knew where the leaked documents came from and that they also knew that the leaking constituted a crime.
But the role of journalists is to publish information in the public interest, in accordance with their duty to inform, not to determine whether or not a leak constitutes a crime. Libération did its duty by publishing information in the public interest at a time when the government is preparing to rush through changes to the labour law.
On 9 June, the labour minister filed a complaint against persons unknown for the theft of documents, but she has so far refrained from filing a complaint against Libération for receipt of stolen documents.
“No matter how unpleasant for the labour minister, the leaks were of undeniable interest to the public and their publication falls under the public’s right to information,” said Pauline Adès-Mével, the head of RSF’s EU-Balkans desk. “It is unacceptable in a democracy that journalists can be regarded as criminal suspects just for doing their job.”
RSF calls on the labour minister to abandon this complaint, and on legislators to protect journalists against this kind of prosecution.
France is ranked 39th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.