France Bans Non-reporters from Covering Riots

Following the election of conservative candidate Nicolas Sarkozy to France's presidency, there have been a series of riots from angry protesters upset at his victory. Unfortunately, it's a little hard to know much about the rioters due to the French government's passing a law that makes it a crime to report on riots unless you are a professional journalist:

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.

Charles Johnson makes the point that this is a suppression of free speech, however, I don't think the law was ill-intended. It seems to me the law is trying to prevent third-party web sites and political groups from glorifying violent protesters.

Still, I am generally opposed to laws banning freedom of political speech so I think on balance the law is bad.

Oh, and before you wonder if this is another example of unnecessary forbearance to France's Islamic underclass, that does not appear to be the case:

The troublemakers this week have been mostly white, whereas the 2005 riots involved many black and Arab youth angry over discrimination and alienation from mainstream society. This week's protesters resembled some of the young people who helped bring down a minor labor reform last year through mass demonstrations.

Sarkozy's reforms promise to be tougher, and are certain to meet similar street protests.

Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield, creator of NewsBusters and president of Dialog New Media, an internet marketing and design firm, left NewsBusters at the end of 2013