Reporters Without Borders

Presidential candidates ignore serious breaches of freedom of information

Presidential candidates ignore serious breaches of freedom of information

Published on Friday 6 April 2012.
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Have any of the presidential candidates said anything about the indictment of five journalists who were investigating a matter of public interest every bit as notorious as the Bettencourt affair? Have any of them responded to the detention of documentary maker Marie Maffre while she was making a film about the group Jeudi Noir (Black Thursday), which campaigns against homelessness, and the seizure of her equipment?

Which of them has expressed concern about the withdrawal of an indictment against Philippe Courroye, the public prosecutor in Nanterre outside Paris, for infringing the confidentiality of journalists’ sources?

Have any protested over the judicial harassment of Christophe Grébert, a local councillor in another western Paris suburb, Puteaux, who writes a blog on his commune?

Who would dare to declare that the adverse reaction to the president’s proposal to punish anyone who visits websites promoting terrorism or violence is robust and courageous?

As the election approaches, any of these issues could have allowed the candidates to show their support for freedom of information. This has not been the case. Any views expressed have been pusillanimous.

Reporters Without Borders strongly regrets that freedom of the press has been almost completely absent from the election campaign. The series of recent incidents described above shows, however, that the freedom and independence of journalists is continually under threat and needs to be defended.

Difficult relations with the judicial authorities and the police, violation of the confidentiality of journalists’ sources, confiscation of equipment, prosecution and demands for the withdrawal of content, intimidation by elected politicians – these are some examples among many that contradict the impression that freedom of the press is irreproachable in France.

Litigation and prosecution of journalists have been an everyday occurrence in the past few years. For example, the indictments on 29 March of Franz Olivier Giesbert and Hervé Gattegno, respectively director and editor of the weekly news magazine Le Point, and on 5 April of Edwy Plenel and Fabrice Arfi, director and journalist with the investigative website Mediapart, and Fabrice Lhomme, now with the daily Le Monde, for infringing the privacy of an individual, are illustrative of a peculiarly French anomaly.

“As soon as a journalist or a blogger touches on a sensitive subject, he or she must be prepared to tangle with the law,” Reporters Without Borders said.

“Such harassment damages freedom of information and promotes a climate which, unfortunately, favours self-censorship. We are surprised at the silence of the candidates for the French presidency on issues that lie at the very heart of our democracy, while infringements and abuses are commonplace. Taken as a whole, this paints a worrying picture.

Freedom of the press, which suffers from serious shortcomings and abuses in France, should be a source of greater concern for the presidential candidates. In a report on press freedom in France, Reporters Without Borders describes the main obstacles to independence of news and information in the country, which is ranked 38 of 179 countries in the 2011-2012 world press freedom index compiled by Reporters Without Borders.

Little attention paid to editorial independence and journalistic freedom

Most candidates have expressed opposition to the HADOPI law, under which illegal downloaders can be deprived of an Internet connection. Some have said they want to end the current system for appointing the heads of state broadcasting organizations. Others have suggested reforming the High Council for Broadcasting (CSA) or guaranteeing the independence of the news agency Agence France-Presse. Surprisingly, however, there are no clear proposals to reform the law protecting the confidentiality of journalists’ sources.

References are made to certain international treaties, but little is said about the need to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on Access to Public Documents. Nor do any of the candidates mention in their programs the need for the police to be trained to respect the right to information, yet abuses are increasing at demonstrations, in the course of preliminary inquiries and over the issuing of summonses.

No one has highlighted the difficulties encountered by journalists in getting access to detention centres for foreigners, although they are the subject of a current campaign and often make headline news. These topics must be tackled urgently.

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