Security forces must respect public’s right to be informed

Reporters Without Borders has received several calls from journalists complaining of the difficulties they have had in covering the ongoing street protests against the government’s pension reform plans. A Canal+ reporter was hit repeatedly by members of the CRS riot police in Paris on 17 October. On the grounds of an alleged “invasion of the privacy” of police officers, a Reuters journalist was banned from filming, and his equipment was seized, while covering a “slow-down” near Lyon the same day. Reporters Without Borders has asked the Paris police department to explain the use of violence against the Canal+ reporter but has not yet received a reply. Reporters Without Borders calls on the security forces to respect the public’s right to be informed by the news media. Preventing journalists from doing their work constitutes misconduct. Where appropriate, an internal directive should be sent to the security services concerned. We urge journalists to report to us any cases of obstruction of their coverage by sending an email to [email protected]. Finally, Reporters Without Borders would like to highlight certain basic principles regarding the rights of journalists. Above all, filming or photographing members of the national police, municipal police, gendarmerie or CRS is not forbidden as long as they are participating in a news event, because it contributes to the public’s right to be informed about matters of public interest. The right to be informed must prevail The Court of Cassation’s case law is perfectly clear on this. The court has ruled that: “The freedom of communication of news and information allows the publication of images of people involved in an event, subject to the sole condition that the individual’s dignity as a human being is respected. On the grounds of the right to freedom of expression (article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights), the European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly issued decisions that put the right to freedom of expression above any other considerations when the public’s right to be informed about matters of public interest is at stake. The right to privacy or the right to control the use of one’s image cannot therefore be used to limit the right of journalists to film or photograph demonstrators or members of the security forces when they want to illustrate current news events. It is only in particular cases determined by the law that the identity of members of the national police or armed forces, civilian members of the defence ministry or customs officials is protected because they belong to special services or because their duties require that they remain anonymous for security reasons. Violating this protection is punishable be a fine of up to 15,000 euros under article 39-6 of the law of 29 July 1881. A decree issued on 27 June 2008 added detail to the law. The media must also protect the anonymity of members of the Criminal Investigation and Intervention Squad, Central Directorate of Internal Intelligence, Central Office for Combating Irregular Immigration and Employment of Undocumented Foreigners, Financial Research and Investigation Department, RAID (a police anti-terrorist unit) and the Presidential Security Unit. A person who is present purely by chance at a demonstration is also exempted from coverage. And the media cannot reuse photos or images out of context when the event has ceased to be in the news. Refusing to permit seizure of equipment, deletion of images There is no reason why journalists should comply with demands from the security forces to surrender equipment or delete images. Equipment can only be seized in very limited circumstances that are strictly determined by the law. As well as violating journalists’ rights and directly obstructing their work, seizures of equipment can result lead to violations of the confidentiality of journalists’ sources, inasmuch as people are often interviewed on condition of anonymity while demonstrations are going on. The secrecy of journalists’ sources is protected by the law of 4 January 2010, published in the 5 January issue of the official gazette.
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Updated on 20.01.2016