RSF says no to “tribunal for journalists,” yes to possible press council

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the recent verbal attacks on journalists by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the leader of the left-wing “La France Insoumise” (Unbowed France) party, and says a debate about journalistic ethics needs a climate of serenity.

Ever since he appeared on the France 2 TV programme “L'Emission Politique” on 30 November, Mélenchon has been flaying the TV channel and accusing it of setting a “media trap” for him.

On his blog “L’Ere du Peuple” (The People’s Era), Mélenchon has proposed creating “a professional tribunal that can be used (...) against liars, cheats and swindlers,” and has asked the French people sign a petition for the creation of a “council for ethics in journalism.”

The creation of a press council to which all citizens could turn and which would be able to take decisions on possible breaches of media ethics is an interesting idea,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “But media-bashing and denigration clearly cannot serve as the basis for a calmly-conducted, proper debate about the media. We deplore the violence of certain comments.”

RSF points out that France’s laws already provide mechanisms for getting the courts to punish media offences. Journalists can, for example, be prosecuted for insult or defamation. Anyone named or identified in an article or a programme has the legal right of reply or correction. The courts can also punish the deliberate dissemination of false news liable to disturb the peace.

The Bloche Law, which recently complemented the Law of 29 July 1881 on press freedom, provides for the creation of ethics committees within news organizations and makes the Higher Council for Broadcasting (CSA) responsible for guaranteeing “the honesty, independence and pluralism of news and supporting programmes.”

To get breaches of media ethics punished or corrected, members of the public can ask the CSA to put a TV channel on formal notice to comply with the requirements of honesty, independence and pluralism.

In 2013, the culture and communication ministry commissioned a report on the possible creation of an entity to oversee ethical standards in the provision of news and information in France. Entitled “Self-regulation in news reporting: how to embody ethics,” it surveyed the views of media professionals and associations concerned about news media ethics in France.

France is ranked 39th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

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Updated on 07.12.2017