France’s new “global security law”, which began to be debated in the National Assembly on Tuesday, has set off alarms in the newsrooms of the media and in organizations that ensure the defense of fundamental rights. The danger is that the law limits the right to information and makes it difficult to report police excesses such as those that have been documented in recent years. Article 24 of the law, promoted by the French Government, provides for one year in prison and a 45,000 euro fine for anyone who disseminates “with the aim of attacking their physical or mental integrity” images of the face of a law enforcement officer .
The article responds to a justified concern of the French policemen and gendarmes, subjected for years to enormous tension due to the fight against terrorism and the social unrest that have frequently resulted in cruelty against officials and hate campaigns in social networks. But, as drafted, it represents, according to the reasoned opinion of Claire Hédon, the Ombudsman – equivalent in France to the Ombudsman in Spain – “a violation of freedom of expression that is neither necessary, nor adapted nor proportionate, and that at the same time would be an obstacle to the control of the security forces ”.
Hédon points out three problems in the text. The first is that no new laws are needed: current laws already protect police officers and gendarmes from threats, insults, defamation or violation of privacy. The second is the ambiguity of the wording. According to article 24, only those who disseminate images with the aim of damaging will be punished, but it is not clear how the bad intention will be demonstrated. The Interior Minister, Gérald Darmanin, has hinted that the solution could be to blur the faces of the agents, although this is not what the article says. The third problem is the threat that, if the restrictive interpretation of Darmanin is assumed, would weigh on journalists, and that could lead them to self-censor and not publish images necessary for the scrutiny of the public powers.
Any limitation of the freedom of information requires the utmost scruples and should never be done lightly or due to temporary constraints. The Government, in proposing an amendment that would specify that the article will not interfere with freedom of information, appears to have understood that, in its current state, the law is not acceptable. It is a question of democratic principles, but also of credibility for a president like Emmanuel Macron who has rightly championed the defense of freedom of expression in his declared fight against radical Islamism.