Networkvisio reporter Michel Lecomte was forcibly evicted from a municipal council meeting in Montauban, the capital of the southern department of Tarn-et-Garonne, and then from the city hall, after being told not to film the debates on 25 November. Two other journalists were prevented from filming his eviction.
Lecomte complied when previously asked to leave the meeting as he was about to film the tense discussions, but obtained permission to return on the understanding that he would not film the debates. However, when he tried to use his mobile phone to photograph two security guards, four municipal police officers dragged him from the room. Describing the scene the next day, the newspaper La Dépêche du Midi wrote: “Four policemen grabbed him by the waist, dragged him along the ground and expelled him by force.” Valérie Rabault, a Socialist Party parliamentarian for a Tarn-et-Garonne district, objected to his eviction. An extremely shaken Lecomte told Reporters Without Borders he went to hospital and was ordered to rest for eight days. “I’ve never been subjected to this level of violence, not even while covering such problematic events as the Notre-Dame des Landes and Sivens Dam protests,” he said. Networkvisio has filed a complaint. When two journalists who were present, Johan Gesrel of Totem and Pierre Bascugnana of La Dépêche du Midi, began filming Lecomte’s expulsion, they were themselves accosted by the city hall administrator and ordering to stop filming. The administrator later apologized to Bascugnana for manhandling him, saying it was a mistake. Reporters Without Borders condemns these violations of freedom of information in the strongest possible terms and has written to Montauban mayor Brigitte Barèges calling on her to publicly condemn the violence with which these three journalists were treated. “The violent eviction of a journalist from a public meeting is a procedure that is totally unworthy of a municipal council,” Reporters Without Borders programme director Lucie Morillon said. “It is not up to a city hall to decided when journalists may or may not cover the events it organizes. Indeed, it is the city hall’s duty to ensure that the public’s right to information is respected at all times.” Reporters Without Borders also urges the mayor to publicly express her commitment to freedom of information on behalf of herself and the municipal council.