On Monday, May 3rd, an independent commission published a government-ordered report that said the relationship between police and journalists had “sharply deteriorated” over at last the past five years, and proposed 32 measures to amend it.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex tasked the commission with writing the report following protests over a new security bill, which French MPs voted to adopt in December 2020.
The bill contained several controversial clauses, including one – Article 24 – that would limit the right to film or photograph police on duty, sparking criticism from international NGOs Reporters Without Borders and Amnesty International as well as France’s own human right’s defender.
The law proposal coincided with several incidents of police caught on film committing violent acts, most notably the beating of a black French music producer in Paris, reigniting concerns about police violence and racism in France.
In the end the government decided to rewrite Article 24, before handing it over to the Conseil constitutionnel (Constitutional Council), which ensures that new laws align with the French Constitution.
France fell two places in Reporters Without Borders’ 2020 World Press Freedom Index, from 32 to 34. In its newest update, the organisation said “covering protests has become problematic for reporters, who have often been subjected to police violence” such as “flash-ball rounds, teargas grenades or baton blows.”
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Noting that the problem went deeper than Article 24 of the security bill, the top civil servant who oversaw the rewriting of the clause, Jean-Marie Dalure, was asked to write a report examining the relationship between police and journalists to find ways to improve it.
One French publication, Public Sénat, hailed the document and its proposals for “calling for a true paradigm change,” that might help foster “peaceful relations between law enforcement and media organisations” in France.
What does the report say?
Over 116 pages, the report examines how relationships between journalists and police had “worsened over a period of “at least five years”, and what could improve them.
It highlighted the anti-labour reform protests in 2016, during the movement known as Nuit debout (Up all night), under Macron’s predecessor François Hollande’s presidency, and the ‘yellow vest’ movement in 2018-2019 as events that accelerated the decline.
The “sometimes unprecedented scenes of violence” during these protests spurred a mutual “feeling of apprehension of fear” between police and journalists, the report noted.
Due to flare-ups in violence, fuelled by fringe rioters or violent protesters or sometimes caused by police officers, journalists faced threats “not only from demonstrators, but also members of the security forces themselves,” they wrote.
Police officers had sometimes proven willing to take aim at journalists in a way “akin to a desire for intimidation, revenge, even punitive” action, the report said.
“As a result,” it noted, “some journalists now weigh the benefits and risks of covering such events.”
What are the solutions?
Several of the 32 proposals aimed at making it easier for journalists to cover protests.
The authors asked for a “guaranteeing of the physical safety of journalists”, permitting them to seek refuge behind police cordons, but also allowing them to use protective gear, which police would confiscate at the entry point of a protest or march.
Police had to always allow journalists to enter or exit police cordons, no matter the situation on the ground, the authors stressed. They also reminded police that filming or photographing officers in public was a right – acclaimed by both journalists and civilians – and that police were not allowed to ask someone to delete their footage.
They asked police to stop trying to separate “real” journalists from “fake” ones, but recommended considering news agencies to issue temporary press passes to journalists without a press card.
Several points aimed at improving the training of police regarding press issues, asking specifically that this training include a practical part with real-life circumstances as well as theory.
The authors also recommended that police and journalists should meet outside protest situations more often to improve the dialogue and further mutual understanding. It asked that local police should get permission to talk to journalists more, to avoid sending all communication through central communication channels.
So what happens now?
The interior ministry and culture ministry will review the report and its proposals together, the Prime Minister’s office Matignon said in a press statement.
This work “will lead to the implementation of all of these recommendations,” the statement said.
Police and journalists would also meet for discussions through the forum of a “monitoring committee”, chaired by Jean-Marie Delarue, which would then be rolled out on a local level.