Europe, Globe, United Kingdom

Security vs. free press

Thousands of French people are taking to the streets to protest the Global Security bill, an initiative that currently has the government in dispute with the press sector and human rights defenders.

  

Once again, security and individual freedoms seem to be rivals, although many agree that it is always possible to find a middle ground, no matter how difficult the situation.

At the centre of the controversy is Article 24 of the text discussed in the National Assembly, intended to prohibit the circulation of images of police officers and gendarmes on duty, with penalties of up to one year in prison and 45,000 euros in fines for offenders.

Press unions, human rights activists and progressive political forces in society warn that the bill violates freedom of information and could hamper the documentation of evidence related to police violence.

According to the Minister of the Interior, Gérald Darmanin, the objective is to protect the identity of police officers and gendarmes from acts that endanger their physical and mental integrity, in particular on social networks.

“If the freedom of the press could be under attack, the police and gendarmes too,” replied the official.

Almost two weeks ago, the minister decided to rewrite Article 24, specifying that the provisions will not be an obstacle to the freedom to report, a modification that was agreed at a meeting called by Prime Minister Jean Castex, which Darmanin attended along with other officials.

The National Assembly, in which the ruling party has the majority, approved the article that same day on first reading, with 146 votes in favour and 24 against.

However, yesterday tens of thousands of people took to the streets to protest once more, both in the capital and in cities such as Marseille, Montpellier, Lille, Rouen, Saint-Etienne and Le Havre, despite the restrictions in place due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The protestors gathered en masse in the emblematic Parisian square of Trocadero to accuse the government of dictatorship.

For their part, more than thirty figures from the world of politics, culture and sports urged President Emmanuel Macron to withdraw the controversial initiative, as did former journalist Claire Hédon, who was named ombudsman this year.

Tensions continue as the government tries to calm press professionals with promises that their work will not be affected, but these do not seem to offset the concerns expressed.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, presidential candidate and the leader of political party La France Insoumise, has said that if he is elected in 2022, he will abolish the Global Security law, because “the situation goes from a model of authoritarian regime to one of generalised surveillance”.

Several media outlets published an editorial in the newspaper Le Monde, where they warned that if Article 24 enters into force, they will stop sending reporters to cover protests as they won’t have the necessary freedom to exercise the profession on public roads.

(Translated by Lucy Daghorn – Email: lucy.daghorn@gmail.com) – Photos: Pixabay

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