The eight journalists are Geoffrey Livolsi, Mathias Destal and Michel Despratx of the investigative news site Disclose; Le Monde’s Ariane Chemin; France Inter’s Benoît Collombat; and Valentine Oberti of the TV news show Quotidien along with a Quotidien cameraman and a Quotidien sound technician.
All have been working on sensitive stories such as French arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the apparent cover-up of alleged offences by former top presidential security aide Alexandre Benalla. All are due to be questioned in the next few days or have already been questioned.
“We fear that the authorities are using these summonses in an attempt to intimidate the journalists and their news organizations and to identify their sources so as to punish them or deter them,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.
“Investigative journalism is now in danger in France because it is under attack and, in particular, it is threatened with legal proceedings. If the confidentiality of journalists’ sources is not guaranteed in a country, if it is undermined by such actions as these, its citizens will be deprived of their right to non-official information. We call on the government to explain the domestic intelligence agency’s apparent attempts to intimidate the media.”
For previous examples of summonses of this kind, you have to go back to 2017, when Mediapart’s Edwy Plenel and freelancer Clément Fayol were accused of publishing a classified defence document about France’s activities in Chad. In 2016, Le Monde journalists Gérard Davet and Fabrice Lhomme were questioned by the DGSI about an article referring to preparations for a possible attack on Syrian military bases.
Back in 2006, three journalists with the Montpellier-based daily Midi Libre were prosecuted on charges of violating professional confidentiality after police raided the newspaper and found a copy of an official internal audit they had quoted in an article criticizing the regional council’s financial management.
In 2005, investigating judges accompanied by police carried out simultaneous raids on the headquarters of Le Point and L’Equipe, examining their computers, after they published transcripts of the telephone tapping carried out in an investigation into alleged doping within the Cofidis cycle team.
In these two last cases, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the police raids were disproportionate and violated article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, enshrining freedom of expression.
More recently, an attempt was made to search the headquarters of Mediapart on 4 February 2019 after it published articles about video recordings of Benalla, the former presidential security aide.
Searches should not be carried out with the aim of violating the confidentiality of journalists’ sources, which is enshrined in France’s 1881 press freedom law. It enable journalists to do their job of providing reporting in the public interest, even when it annoys the authorities, without fear of endangering their sources. The law specifies that “in no case” are they obliged to reveal their sources.
France is ranked 32nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.