French bill banning images of police worries activists and journalists

French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin has said the controversial clause in the new bill is needed to “protect those who protect us”.
French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin has said the controversial clause in the new bill is needed to “protect those who protect us”. © Thomas Coex, AFP / file picture

French lawmakers will begin debating a controversial bill on Tuesday that proposes a ban on the publication of images showing law enforcement officers. The bill has drawn sharp criticism from media outlets and activist groups who say it would violate principles of press freedom and the public’s right to be informed.

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The bill's Article 24, which has been dubbed the “guerre des images” (war of images) in France, is aimed at “protecting those who protect us” by banning anyone – journalists and civilians alike – from publishing or broadcasting images in which on-duty police officers or gendarmes can be clearly identified for what the bill calls "malicious purposes".

The clause was first proposed by an MP for President Emmanuel Macron’s La République En Marche (LREM) party after police unions lobbied for it. The purpose of the bill "is to forbid any calls for violence or reprisals against officers and their families" in videos on social media, another LREM MP, Alice Thourot, told France Inter radio.

Critics, however, say the ban would essentially censor journalists by outlawing an activity that could be essential to their work. Images documenting police brutality or misconduct could also fall under the rubric of the ban. 

The January death of Cédric Chouviat, a delivery driver in Paris who suffered a heart attack and died after police put him in a chokehold, shined a spotlight on France's own demons. In the wake of George Floyd protests in the United States, France faced unprecedented protests against police brutality and racism over the summer. 

According to international NGO Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières or RSF), the clause “clearly violates the principles of press freedom and the public’s right to be informed”.

Read more: As George Floyd protests spread, France confronts its own demons

Civilians would also be prevented from sharing such images on social media. A Change.org petition protesting the ban had on Tuesday garnered more than 80,000 signatures.

Should the proposal – which will require approval from both France’s upper and lower houses – go through, offenders would face up to one year in prison and a €45,000 fine.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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