French State of Emergency and Curfews Could Threaten Press Freedom Warns IFJ

The International Federation of Journalists today warned that France’s imposition of a 12-day state of emergency and night-time curfews to curb street violence in major cities could lead to restrictions on press and media coverage of disturbances across the country.

“These draconian rules will undermine the work of journalists and make an already difficult reporting environment even worse,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary.

The IFJ’s French affiliate the Syndicat National des Journalistes has also expressed concern over the government’s announcement which brings into force a 1955 law emergency law last used when France was trying to curb violence surrounding the struggle for independence in Algeria.

Journalists fear that local interpretation of the use of extended police powers and restrictions on freedom of movement of journalists will render meaningless an undertaking from Interior Minister Nicholas Sarkozy that the government would not invoke provisions in the law to control press of broadcast media.

“These are harsh powers that could limit free expression and will make it difficult for journalists to work,” said White. “The French crisis will not be solved by actions that restrict media access to trouble spots. That will only create an atmosphere of increased ignorance and uncertainty.”

The IFJ is also concerned over the safety of journalists who report from areas where riots are taking place since several media workers, including Italian and Russian journalists, have been injured and material has been stolen. The curfew does not help local or foreign correspondents to work in a safe environment according to the IFJ.

The IFJ says that the riots in France, which have exposed deep resentment felt by people in poor urban communities, many of the of North African origin, add to concerns that there is an increase in race-related social conflict in many countries of Europe.

“The riots in France, recent disturbances in England and the resurgence of racism in many parts of Europe pose an enormous challenge for journalists,” said White. “Media and journalists need to provide coverage that will not add to divisions, but that will provide thoughtful reporting placing recent events in their proper context. The actions of the French government will not make that task any easier.”

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The IFJ represents more than 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries