Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Free Speech Threatened in France

The French Constitutional Council has approved a law that criminalizes the filming or broadcasting of acts of violence by people other than professional journalists. The law could lead to the imprisonment of eyewitnesses who film acts of police violence, or operators of Web sites publishing the images, one French civil liberties group warned on Tuesday.

The council chose an unfortunate anniversary to publish its decision approving the law, which came exactly 16 years after Los Angeles police officers beating Rodney King were filmed by amateur videographer George Holliday on the night of March 3, 1991. The officers’ acquittal at the end on April 29, 1992 sparked riots in Los Angeles.

If Holliday were to film a similar scene of violence in France today, he could end up in prison as a result of the new law, said Pascal Cohet, a spokesman for French online civil liberties group Odebi. And anyone publishing such images could face up to five years in prison and a fine of €75,000 (US$98,537), potentially a harsher sentence than that for committing the violent act.
This is a blatant attempt to protect so-called professional journalists and can have a chilling effect on free speech in France by limiting the rights of non-journalists to post newsworthy and important images and stories of their own. Those citizen journalists talked about in the aforementioned article include bloggers.

In effect, it is setting up a bifurcated approach to free speech - one level of protection for journalists, and another one for the rest of the French.

Another issue is that quite a few professional journalists now rely on photos taken by amateurs on cellphones or digital cameras to break news - this law would make those acts illegal. How does this improve the delivery of news and information? It does not.

No Pasaran has more.

No comments: