Reporters Without Borders deplores the disproportionate and repressive reaction from the French authorities to the television channel TF1’s broadcasting of parts of the gunman Mohammed Merah’s recorded phone conversations with the police from his Toulouse apartment before he was killed in a shootout on 23 March.
In particular, the media freedom organization condemns the raid carried out on the headquarters of the company that produces the TF1 programme “Sept à Huit” and the decision by the Broadcasting Council (CSA) to summon the heads of all the stations that broadcast extracts of the recordings.
“Despite the January 2010 law protecting journalists’ sources, this principle has again been jeopardized,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We unreservedly support the refusal by Emmanuel Chain’s production, Elephant et Cie, to surrender the recordings to investigators. We point out that the European Court of Human Rights recently ruled against France for violating the confidentiality of sources in a case in which the authorities wanted to identify the origin of leaks about an investigation.”
Investigating a “violation of the confidentiality of a judicial investigation,” members of the National Police General Inspectorate (IGPN) went to Elephant et Cie yesterday with the aim of seizing all of its recordings of the phone conversations. The day before, TF1 broadcast a number of short extracts from the conversations but said it possessed a total of four hours of recordings.
“We fully understand the emotional reaction from the relatives of Merah’s victims,” Reporters Without Borders said. “But although the views of victims and their families are important, they should not obstruct the right to information in a case that has attracted a great deal of public interest. It is up to each media to take its own decision on whether or not to broadcast extracts from Merah’s conversations with the police. There is certainly nothing illegitimate about broadcasting them.
“The extracts broadcast by TF1 were of undeniable news value. It was the first time the siege of Merah’s apartment was seen from anything other than the official viewpoint. The recordings offered a fuller picture of the killer’s profile and help to refute the conspiracy theories that have been circulating of late. Contrary to the CSA’s claim, they contain nothing that adversely affects the memory of the victims. And as Christophe Bigot of the Paris bar association said, they do not jeopardize the investigation.
“From the legislative viewpoint, this episode has underlined the need to amend the law on the confidentiality of sources and to specify the circumstances in which exceptions are acceptable. We take note of the government’s statements on this subject and we hope it will act quickly. It is a matter of urgency. We have already voiced our concern about the abuse of searches, which need more detailed legislation.
“The latest developments in the Merah case have also highlighted the difficulty of covering judicial matters in France. It is time to abolish the crime of ‘complicity in the violation of the confidentiality of a judicial investigation,” which imposes excessive restrictions on the right to information and contradicts article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.”
(Picture: AFP Photo / France 2)