February 28, 2013 - Updated on January 20, 2016

French regulator objects to bodies in TV report on Mali atrocities

Reporters Without Borders is astounded by the warnings that France’s Higher Council for Broadcasting (CSA) has given to the state-owned national TV broadcaster, France Télévisions, over a report on France 2’s “Envoyé Spécial” programme about the situation in Mali. The warnings have set a disturbing precedent for the entire media profession. Entitled “Atrocities in Mali?” and labelled as “not for viewers under the age of 10,” the report was about atrocities by the Malian armed forces since the start of the French intervention. Broadcast after 10 p.m. on 7 February, the 22-minute report showed human bodies for less than a minute. The CSA issued a statement on 14 February which it described as a “firm warning to those in charge of France Télévisions.” It accused Envoyé Spécial of broadcasting “repeated and particularly insistent shots of the bodies of dead persons without any corresponding analysis, and liable to constitute a violation of human dignity.” After meeting with France Télévisions executives, the CSA issued a second, more nuanced statement on 26 February acknowledging the broadcaster’s “desire to draw viewers’ attention to tragic events and the identity of those responsible.” But it reiterated its warning about “the repeated and excessive presentation of the remains of human bodies, which was hard to bear, especially for young viewers over the age of 10.” “Bodies are shown on TV every day, so why is the CSA suddenly offended by sequences totalling just tens of seconds in length in an investigative report on Mali,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire asked. “Reporting has been closely controlled since the start of the French intervention, as we have already complained. “Isn’t the CSA using the protection of ‘young viewers over the age of 10’ as a pretext for protecting a military operation’s public relations? Is it an independent regulatory body’s job to make recommendations to the French media about their coverage of the fighting in Mali?Envoyé Spécial editors and presenters Guilaine Chenu and Françoise Joly told Reporters Without Borders that they were “shocked” by the warnings, which “create a precedent” and place the media “in a situation of legal uncertainty.” “The CSA is not longer taking issue with this footage as such, just its length,” they said. “The disputed shots constitute 45 seconds of a 22-minute report. Is it the CSA’s job to determine the length of shots? What is its job? To invite itself into editing rooms? We can discuss child protection labelling with the CSA, for example, but definitely not how long shots last. “Our report was not intended to be sensational. It was the fruit of four weeks of reporting in Mali. We thought carefully about each shot and each word. The images we showed constitute evidence. Their journalistic significance is historic and they may one day be used in court.” They added that they did not get any letters from viewers objecting to the report’s content.