European Union warns France over press freedom as it pushes security law

WION Web Team
Brussels, Belgium Updated: Nov 23, 2020, 06:19 PM(IST)

Thousands protest against French bill on security Photograph:( Reuters )

Story highlights

French journalists and press freedom advocates have protested against the planned law, which would limit the right to film or photograph on-duty police officers

The European Commission on Monday responded to a question about France's draft security law by warning that news media must be able to "work freely".

French journalists and press freedom advocates have protested against the planned law, which would limit the right to film or photograph on-duty police officers.

It will also make it harder to hold police accountable for abuses such as excessive use of force - a growing public concern. The offence would carry a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a 45,000-euro ($53,000) fine.

EU spokesman Christian Wigand said "The commission does not comment on draft laws, but it goes without saying that in a period of crisis it is more important than ever that journalists must be able to do their jobs freely and in complete safety."

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"As is always the case, the commission reserves the right to examine the final legislation in order to verify that it conforms to EU law," he added.

Last Tuesday, two journalists were detained in a protest that led to clashes with police as lawmakers in the National Assembly began debating the bill, which is backed by President Emmanuel Macron's party and its parliamentary allies.

The bill passed its first reading on Friday and there will be a second reading on Tuesday. It then goes to the Senate for further debate before it can become law.

An amendment drafted by the government and approved on Friday modified the article in question, 24, to add the phrase "without prejudice to the right to inform".

Prime Minister Jean Castex said this would "remove any ambiguity on the intention to guarantee respect for public freedoms while better protecting those, police and gendarmes, who ensure the protection of the population".

In practice, this law would restrict the publication of photos or videos taken of police officers' faces while carrying out their duties in public spaces, and in many cases an officer's face would have to be blurred. 

Media unions say this could give police a green light to prevent journalists from doing their work and potentially documenting abuses by security forces.

Members of protest movements such as the "Yellow Vests" and "Extinction Rebellion", who faced a robust police response to street demonstrations -- have also denounced the draft law.     

Prison term, big fine

Article 24 of the draft law foresees a one-year prison term and a 45,000-euro ($54,000) fine for publishing images that officers object to, but officials insist their target is not press freedom.

Instead, police are concerned about social media campaigns that expose individual officers.

Police say they risk great personal threat in the line of duty, and dozens have been injured in clashes with protesters in recent years.

An attack on a police station outside Paris last month by dozens of people armed with fireworks and steel bars spurred the government into taking measures.

"Ensuring the security of all those living in Europe is a key priority for the Commission and we are working hand-in-hand with the member states," Wigand said. 

"When drafting their security legislation, member states must respect the principle of proportionality and strike the right balance between guaranteeing public security and protecting citizens' rights and freedoms, including freedom of expression, media freedom, freedom of association, privacy and access to information."

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