May 7, 2021

Report of the Commission on the relations between journalists and police : towards an improvement on the ground?

Thomas Samson / AFP
An independent commission’s report into relations between the French police and media has recommended many concrete measures to provide better protection to journalists covering protests. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) will ensure that these recommendations are incorporated into police regulations and practice.

Chaired by Jean-Marie Delarue, the former head of France’s National Consultative Commission on Human Rights, this commission submitted its report to the prime minister on 3 May, World Press Freedom Day. 

Concluding that relations between police and media have worsened significantly in recent years and that journalists have been subjected to “growing and uninhibited obstruction” by the police, the report makes 32 recommendations designed to guarantee “the right to protection of life and human integrity, defense of public order and freedom of information” when reporters cover police operations.

“We are studying the 32 proposals submitted to the prime minister by the Delarue Commission” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “This is clearly a substantive effort based on the conclusion that relations have deteriorated significantly. The formation of a monitoring committee in the coming days, bringing together representatives of the media and police and members of the commission, should facilitate concrete progress. It seems that the problem we have long been raising is finally being addressed.”

The Delarue Commission’s report stresses that the police have an obligation “to ensure the safety of journalists in the face of attacks by demonstrators, including in places and times of tension, which cannot be denied scrutiny by the press,” and that the journalists should be free to station themselves behind special cordons during demonstrations.

The report says that journalists should be allowed to wear protective equipment “which is now often confiscated from them” and that the police cannot object to being filmed or photographed by journalists, whose right to do this must be “incorporated as a new and permanent parameter” of police operations.

The report insists that journalists should be able to cover the dispersal of protests “without being threatened with arrest, as long as they physically dissociate themselves from those being dispersed, contrary to what is suggested in the National Law Enforcement Plan (SNMO)” which RSF criticized for this reason.

It says the police should appoint “press officers'' at demonstrations to provide reporters with operational information and deal with any difficulties that arise. Discrimination against reporters with no press cards or official accreditation – permitted in practice by the SNMO and criticized by RSF – would be prevented by the report’s proposal that, in the absence of a regular press card, the police should accept a media “employer letter” or a special “public order event” press card of the kind used in the Netherlands, which RSF also recommends.

The prime minister’s press office has said the 32 recommendations will be implemented jointly by the interior and culture ministers and that their implementation will be monitored by a committee to be installed in the coming days that will consist of representatives of the media and police and members of the commission.

RSF also insists that these recommendations – which are based in part on its own recommendations to the Delarue Commission – should be reflected in an amended version of the SNMO and in the way the police treat reporters in the field. The judicial system must also respond to the many cases of police violence against reporters. RSF has filed 18 complaints about such cases of violence since December 2019.

France is ranked 34th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index.