Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Le Censorship

France has just passed major legislation limiting the rights of anyone not an officially licensed journalist to film acts of violence by others and then to broadcast them. Additionally, France is debating whether to impose rules on what may or may not be published on the internet. Fauta's blog has commentary and a round-up of posts on the latest in an ominous move to stifle the free flow of information in France.

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.

The council chose an unfortunate anniversary to publish its decision approving the law, which came exactly 16 years after Los Angeles police officers beating Rodney King were filmed by amateur videographer George Holliday on the night of March 3, 1991. The officers’ acquittal at the end on April 29, 1992 sparked riots in Los Angeles.

If Holliday were to film a similar scene of violence in France today, he could end up in prison as a result of the new law, . . . And anyone publishing such images could face up to five years in prison and a fine of €75,000 (US$98,537), potentially a harsher sentence than that for committing the violent act.

. . . During parliamentary debate of the law, government representatives said the offense of filming or distributing films of acts of violence targets the practice of “happy slapping,” in which a violent attack is filmed by an accomplice, typically with a camera phone, for the amusement of the attacker’s friends.

The broad drafting of the law so as to criminalize the activities of citizen journalists unrelated to the perpetrators of violent acts is no accident, but rather a deliberate decision by the authorities, said Cohet. He is concerned that the law, and others still being debated, will lead to the creation of a parallel judicial system controlling the publication of information on the Internet.

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.
See the entire article here.

Besides the obvious problems with limiting information in a free society, it is especially problematic in France, where the Government, in apparent coordination with a complicit major news media, are not addressing France's extensive problems with a restive and radicalized Muslim population, but rather are deliberately ignoring it and minimizing coverage and commentary about the crimes that spring from it. As Fausta explains:

As it was, the French media did their best to not report on, and then underplay as much as possible, the stories about the Halimi murder, the 2006 New Year's day rampage on a train from Nice to Lyon, and the 2005 rioting banlieus, which continued into 2006. . . I expect a full news blackout on anything that doesn't reflect well on La Belle France. Everything else will be whitewashed to an appropriate shade.
That seems a sure recette pour le d├ęsastre.

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