The past few years have been marked by cases of serious police violence against journalists, which RSF has repeatedly raised with the government and taken to court. After several announcements by the President of the Republic and the Interior Minister that have not been followed by action, strong government measures are long overdue.
The President’s request to his Prime Minister on 7 June to “accelerate” proposals for “improving police conduct” is welcome and nees to lead to a complete overhaul of police methods and tactics. Reminding the government of the 10 proposals it submitted to the Interior Minister in June 2019, RSF calls for an overhaul of police training and techniques for policing protests and for the creation of mechanisms for improving relations between police and reporters on the ground.
“After spending four years tallying and denouncing cases of police violence against journalists, appealing to the authorities, taking cases to court and drafting proposals, we call on the government to finally adopt concrete and bold measures to end these violations of press freedom and the right to information in France,” RSF Secretary General Christophe Deloire said.
Police violence against journalists increased not only during last year’s “Yellow Vest” protests but also from 2016 to 2018 during the nighttime “Nuit Debout” demonstrations and the protests against Labour Law reform. While on duty covering the protests and the demands expressed, journalists were repeatedly insulted and beaten by police which fired flashball rounds or stingball grenades at them.
In 2017, RSF asked the French Ombudsman to investigate ten cases of journalists who had been subjected to unwarranted violence by the security forces while covering the “Nuit Debout” demonstrations and protests against the Labour Law reform in 2016 and 2017. RSF then raised these issues with the French President who promised RSF’s Secretary General in a meeting in May 2019 that “action will be taken” to address police violence against reporters at protests.
At a meeting the following month, RSF submitted its ten proposals to the Interior Minister, who promised to study them, and an RSF delegation participated in a discussion at the Interior Ministry in November 2019 on a new approach to policing protests which is still awaited.
Finally, in December 2019, RSF filed a joint complaint at the public prosecutor’s office in Paris with 13 journalists who were the victims of police violence while covering “Yellow Vest” protests between November 2018 and May 2019.
RSF’s Deloire added: “We deplore the fact that the 2019 report by the National Police Inspectorate General, published on 8 June 2020, referred to an increase in ‘deliberate violence’ by the police but did not mention the violence against reporters in the field. This omission suggests that the authorities are trying to deny the facts or the importance of the abuses that have taken place.”
France is ranked 34th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.