January 11, 2017

RSF asks legislators not to extend lawsuit deadline for online content

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on France’s national assembly members to reject a proposed amendment to its 1881 press freedom law that would extend the statute of limitations for press freedom offences from three months to a year for online content. RSF regards the amendment, which is due to return to the national assembly for second reading on January 12, 2017, as a renewed attempt to undermine the 1881 law’s strong guarantees for journalistic freedom.

Proposed in the senate by Sen. François Pillet of the centre-right Republicans Party, the amendment says: “When offences are committed by means of an online public communication service, the time limit for any prosecution or civil action is one year, except in cases of reproduced content that was originally published on paper.”

In other words, the statute of limitations for all online content, except content previously published in print format, would be extended from three to twelve months.

RSF views the amendment as an unjustified discrimination against online media vis-à-vis print media as well as a grave attack on the 1881 law’s guarantees.

Under the 1881 law, any defamation suit must be brought within three months of the offending article’s publication. Those who wrote the law imposed this short deadline with the deliberate aim of favouring free speech and journalism by limiting the possibility of lawsuits.

The amendment reflects the opposite aim of favouring punishment of offenses rather than favouring free speech, in this case, online free speech.

A similar amendment was submitted last October during discussion of the Equality and Citizenship Bill but was fortunately rejected by the national assembly, as requested at the time by RSF.

In a June 2004 ruling, the Constitutional Council said it would be unconstitutional for the statute of limitations for press freedom offences to vary according to the type of media.

The entire journalistic profession in France has condemned the repeated attempts to upset the balance of what is one of the French Republic most fundamental laws, attempts made without any consultation with the media and without any impact study.

RSF is appalled by these initiatives, which reflect a growing mistrust of online expression, and strongly urges France’s national assembly members to reject the proposed amendment.