The International Federation of Journalists today expressed concern over a law that criminalises filming or broadcasting of acts of violence by people other than professional journalists.
Journalists and civil liberties groups are worried this ban, which does not apply to bona fide journalists, could lead to prosecution of eyewitnesses who film acts of police violence. The IFJ says the new law is confusing – it allows amateur film to be used as evidence for prosecution in court, but stipulates that taking the film in the first place is an illegal act.
“Such a law is absurd in an age when people have access to technology that allows them to capture on film wrongdoing as it happens,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “We do need to protect professional journalism and we must have high standards, but we must not give the impression that there is an attempt to outlaw eye witness news.”
“Government is best advised to keep out of the business of news selection and leave the judgement about what or what not to publish to professional journalists,” said White. “This law is confusing and contradictory and needs to be clarified urgently.”
The IFJ has asked its affiliates in France to take the matter up with the French authorities.
News media organisations in Europe and North America routinely use video and film material from eye witnesses where it is in the public interest and this practice has grown since the development of mobile telephones with cameras installed.
In 1992 media around the world used footage of the infamous beating up of Los Angeles resident Rodney King by police in a case that had major implications for policing and race relations in the United States. Under the new French rules this footage – taken by an amateur – would be banned and the film-maker would risk prosecution, even though the material could be used later as evidence by the court.
“Journalists are rightly concerned about the way in which some media are trying to use amateur sources of information to undermine the professionalism of journalists by encouraging amateur contribution,” said White. “But no-one would seriously suggest that it is right to criminalise filming of violence, particularly where it touches upon scrutiny of people responsible for law and order.”
Journalists are regular witnesses to violence in their coverage of demonstrations and police stories and so are members of the public. The IFJ wants the decisions about to publish or not publish material from any source to be left to media professionals. Making it illegal for non-journalists to film in the first place could restrict access to vital information, they warn.
For more information contact the IFJ at 32 2 235 22 00
The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries worldwide