A step backwards for Citizen Journalism – France bans citizen journalists from reporting violence

From MacWorld comes this disturbing news:

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.

This is a classic instance where an overbroad definition of a specific problem is addressed through legislation that serves to undermine media freedom and the freedom of expression in general. Ostensibly brought about to curb happy slapping, the French laws essentially criminalize the activities of citizen journalists unrelated to the perpetrators of violent acts. A citizen who happens to capture an act of violence or brutality directed against another citizen – especially by the French Police, noted for their excessive use of force – now stands the risk of imprisonment, which is clearly a absurd position to espouse through legislation.

As further noted in the Macworld article:

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.

This is clearly a disturbing precedent.

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