[extropy-chat] the non-transparent society

Damien Broderick thespike at satx.rr.com
Wed Mar 7 06:42:49 UTC 2007

France Bans Citizen Journalists From Reporting Violence

PETER SAYER - IDG News Service

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.

Senators and members of the National Assembly had 
asked the council to rule on the 
constitutionality of six articles of the Law 
relating to the prevention of delinquency. The 
articles dealt with information sharing by social 
workers, and reduced sentences for minors. The 
council recommended one minor change, to 
reconcile conflicting amendments voted in 
parliament. The law, proposed by Minister of the 
Interior Nicolas Sarkozy, is intended to clamp 
down on a wide range of public order offenses. 
During parliamentary debate of the law, 
government representatives said the offense of 
filming or distributing films of acts of violence 
targets the practice of 'happy slapping,' in 
which a violent attack is filmed by an 
accomplice, typically with a camera phone, for 
the amusement of the attacker's friends.

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, said Cohet. He is concerned that 
the law, and others still being debated, will 
lead to the creation of a parallel judicial 
system controlling the publication of information on the Internet.

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.

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