Reporters attacked at “yellow vest” protests in France
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the verbal and physical attacks against media outlets, especially the 24-hour news channel BFMTV, by participants in France’s “gilets jaunes” (yellow vest) protest movement and appeals for restraint, pointing out that the targeted journalists are just doing their job to report the news.
Hostility towards the media has been expressed at these anti-government protests ever since they began on 17 November, with journalists being called “bastards,” “liars,” “sell-outs,” “collaborators” and “Macronistes” (supporters of President Macron). BFMTV, which covered many of last weekend’s protests, has been called “lying BFMTV” and “corrupt media outlet.”
BFMTV reporter Raphaël Maillochon had to cut-short a live report from the Champs Elysées in Paris on 17 November when someone smashed an egg on his head. Another BFMTV journalist’s live coverage was disrupted by a protester in a shirt with the words “BFMTG, FAKE 24/7” – TG standing for “Ta Gueule,” which means “Shut Up.”
A BFMTV crew had to abandon a protest in the Bordeaux region under police protection on 19 November after protesters not only hurled insults but also threw stones and beer cans at them. Around 50 “yellow vest” protesters demonstrated outside BFMTV headquarters the same day in protest against its coverage of their movement.
BFMTV was not the only media outlet to be targeted during the past weekend. Another 24-hour news channel, LCI, said its reporters were subjected to “multiple insults” and that one of its crews was spat on. A volunteer reporter for the community radio station Bip was subjected to racist insults and struck in the face at a “yellow vest” protest in the eastern city of Besançon, while Céline Durchon, who freelances for news channels, was surrounded by several hundred angry “yellow vest” protesters in the southern city of Montpellier. “I’ve never felt so much hatred,” she said.
“We condemn the many verbal and physical attacks against journalists, which are indicative of a very disturbing increase in mistrust of the media,” said Pauline Adès-Mével, the head of RSF’s European Union and Balkans desk. “The ‘yellow vest’ protesters must not go after the wrong targets. Reporters must not be seen as government intermediaries or mouthpieces. When sent into the field, they just do their job to cover what they observe. A dialogue must be restored between demonstrators and journalists so that we cease to see such a display of hostility at protests.”
Many comments and photomontages expressing hatred towards journalists as a whole have also been seen on “yellow vest” Facebook pages. The level of threats and attacks is such that more and more news organizations are providing their reporters with bodyguards while some journalists have confessed on Facebook that they are scared to go into the field.
An association called #PayeToiUnJournaliste was created in the Montpellier region on 18 November to condemn this violence and the increasingly widespread press bashing.
France is ranked 33rd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index.