France bans non-journalists from recording acts of violence
March 08, 2007
"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."
Okay, the law was intended to prevent so-called "happy slapping", the recording of violent acts to entertain the attacker's friends, according to BBC, but "the broad drafting of the law so as to criminalize the activities of citizen journalists unrelated to the perpetrators of violent acts is no accident, but rather a deliberate decision by the authorities," a campaigner told MacWorld/IDG.
Ironically, the law was proposed by none other than Nicloas Sarkozy, the French right-wing presidential candidate and Minister of the interior, whose presidential campaign is being advised by Loic Le Meur, Six Apart's European VP and one of France's most widely read bloggers. Le Meur is said to support Sarkozy in 'part because he believes he is the best candidate to help bring new opportunities to the French software and technology industries.' Right.
Le Meur, some will remember, had a bit of a fallout with parts of the blogosphere when he let politicians hijack blogging conference LeWeb 3.0 in Paris last autumn, and the bloggers present were none too happy about Sarkozy's 'monologue' for the cameras. It left people with the impression Sarkozy was there to broadcast how trendy he was by attending a blogging conference, while ignoring the people present at the actual conference. So not much praise for Le Web 3.0 organiser LeMeur on this account, let's hope he had nothing to do with Sarkozy's newly passed law, and this other piece of proposed legislation, which frankly is the most backward, oppressive and outright frightening proposal I've heard from a Western government in a long time:
"The government has also proposed a certification system for Web sites, blog hosters, mobile-phone operators and Internet service providers, identifying them as government-approved sources of information if they adhere to certain rules. The journalists’ organization Reporters Without Borders, which campaigns for a free press, has warned that such a system could lead to excessive self censorship as organizations worried about losing their certification suppress certain stories," according to Macworld/IDG.
On making it illegal for non-accredited journalist to record acts of violence David Winer writes: "lf such a law were passed in the US, we'd assume it was because the government was getting ready to commit acts of violence that they didn't want people to see on the web. The French would probably talk about how we'd lost it in the USA."
Hello Kristine, most of what you wrote here is actually wrong: "France bans non-journalists from recording acts of violence" and "the law could lead to the imprisonment of eyewitnesses who film acts of police violence, or operators of Web sites publishing the images".
I answer it here:
But thanks for blogging about it, it means it apparently needed some more communication. I hope this answers your concerns.
As far as my conference is concerned, please let me remind you that I had invited the three candidates and two of them came (Bayrou was there, representant of the central party UDF and with a growing popularity in France). I also answered this in details here:
You may want to have a look at the above post, I hope you do.
Posted by: Loic Le Meur | March 09, 2007 at 01:23 AM
As "cross-"posted to Loic's blog"
The actual text of the legislation is here http://www.assemblee-nationale.fr/12/ta/ta0680.asp
and RSF's commentary, which seems quite valid, http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=21237
here. ( <-- no HTML allowed in your comments!)
Actually reading the legislation reveals that it is a somewhat wide-ranging abridgment of the urbaine and rural codes dealing with issues of order and 'delinquency,' spanning from feral cats to unsavory images including those of pornography and violence.
As the RSF article points out, 'Article 222-13 concerns' and extends statutory authority over violence "committed by an agent of the state in the exercise of his duties." ' Given precedent, one might also question whether the legislation extends authority over so-called 'pornographic' images, which allegedly might 'contribute to the delinquency of a minor,' transmitted into French territories from extraterritorial locations.
The exact exempting phrase of the legislation is "Le présent article n’est pas applicable lorsque l’enregistrement ou la diffusion résulte de l’exercice normal d’une profession ayant pour objet d’informer le public ou est réalisé afin de servir de preuve en justice," or, roughly in English, "this legislation does not apply insofar and the recording or transmission occurs in the usual practices of a profession whose goal is to inform the public, or which was made in order to serve as evidence."
While I believe there is reason for concern given the wide extension of scope elsewhere in the legislation, and whereas the alleged "intent" of the Interior Ministry and its personnel have little relevance to French civil procedure, the dual exclusion of the 'usual practices' of 'professions' intent on 'informing the public,' and of recordings made to 'serve as evidence (or: 'witness'), provide a large leeway for what has come to be called "citizen journalism."
Regardless, as written, the the legislation would criminalize the publication of a video recording of French soldiers murdering Algerian protesters and dumping their bodies into the Seine, if such a recording had been made incidentally by a third-party neither exercising professional duty to inform the public, or an 'intent' to record evidence of the event. What would be the status of video recording made 'incidentally' by a tourist or security camera?
The "devil is in the details," as it is said in English, and such questions are indeed disturbing in the context of a legislative act whose apparent aim is to restrict freedom of expression in various situations.
As for the Interior Ministry's response, we also have a word in English, "spin." Je ne suis pas exactement sur de la phrase pareille en francais, [mais...]
Posted by: Kenneth Thomas | March 09, 2007 at 05:44 AM
As partly cross-posted to Loic's blog (more here)
Thanks for commenting.
Loic: as a blogger, due to lack of time, I rely on 'second hand reporting' a lot of the time. That does not mean I don't try to stand it up, at least by checking against multiple sources.
For this particular post I pulled together what I thought were some very interesting, good, worrying perspectives, and relied on a wide range of sources, MSM as well as bloggers, one of the most trusted being Reporters Sans Frontiers. What you're effectively saying, is that even they got this story wrong.
The answers you got from the ministry of the interior, and Kenneth's comment, shows that this may not be the major threat to citizen journalism as so many feared, but Kenneth's comment doesn't make me less worried about this dubious law.
Again, we've seen too many times how the outcome of court cases hinge on some small nuance in the legal texts, or even on interpretations of laws that are ambiguous.
I'm not saying that this is your fault, by all means, but being seen as Sarkozy's online adviser, and being an expert in this environment yourself, it's natural to hope that you would have some positive influence on Sarkozy's understanding of this environment.
The second law mentioned in my post bears all the marks of a dinosaur, outdated, I was tempted to say Stalinist, thinking. Seems those behind both these law proposals could do with a better understanding of the world we live in.
As for Le Web 3.0., as I understood it, the main complaint was not about which politicians were there, but the fact that Sarkozy in particular seemed to be using it as a platform for speechifying, talking down to the audience, or to the cameras, rather than talking with the bloggers.
It would be fantastic if bigwig politicians attended Le Web 3.0 to understand more about the blogosphere, but my impression was that the conference was used more as a place to 'be seen'.
Posted by: Kristine | March 09, 2007 at 09:05 AM