The months of “gilets jaunes” (yellow vest) protests that began in October 2018 were already accompanied by many cases of violence against journalists. Now, this 13-day-old wave of strikes and protests against the government’s pension reform plans has seen further widespread violence of every kind against media personnel.
Many journalists have reported sustaining physical injuries – including bruising from baton blows and burns from stingball grenades – and being prevented from covering the protests because their equipment was smashed or because they were taken into police custody.
“The interior minister has spent months considering a proposed new approach to policing protests and now, with another day of protests about to get under day, he must finally issue clear instructions to the police to respect the media’s right to cover them,” said Pauline Adès-Mével, the head of RSF’s European Union desk.
“RSF provided its expertise and recommendationsto the group responsible for discussing the new approach, and can no longer tolerate the hesitation and hypocrisy. The unprecedented scale of police violence and frequency of incidents cannot be blamed on the unusual length of the protests and the tense social climate.”
The mass protests in Paris on 5 December saw a record level violence. For the first time, a reporter – Anadolu Agency photographer Mustafa Yalcin – was badly injured by a stingball grenade and will probably lose the use of an eye although he was wearing protective headgear. Photos taken at the time by other journalists show the force of the grenade’s impact.
RSF spoke to several journalists on 5 December and they all confirmed an exceptional level of violence. They included Corentin Fohlen, a freelance photographer and video reporter who is used to covering difficult situations with a clutch of cameras and a helmet with the letters “TV” on his head. Paris was like a war zone on 5 December, he and others said. Gaspard Charpentier, a freelance cameraman displaying press identification, was hit by a stingball grenade in the right thigh but kept working after joining a group of reporters. While crouching on Rue Vieille du Temple, a second grenade exploded under his leg. That was when he had to stop reporting. His injury was sufficiently serious for him to seek medical attention and spend four days off work.
The pension reform protests have been taking place all over France – including Nantes, Toulouse, Bordeaux and Lille – with a similar level of violence. In Lille, where two journalism students were arrested on 12 December and were held overnight, the number of incidents has been particularly worrying.
France is ranked 32nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.