Are journalists now prohibited from filming the dispersal of demonstrations?

Press conference by Gerald Darmanin, Minister of the Interior and Marlene Schiappa, Minister Delegate to the Minister of the Interior for the presentation of the results of the ministerial action on November 18, 2020 at the Hôtel de Beauvau, in Paris. – ISA HARSIN / SIPA

  • The demonstration against the proposed law on “comprehensive security” near the National Assembly on Tuesday was the scene of violence between demonstrators and the police.
  • At the end of the rally, several journalists were ordered to leave the premises along with the demonstrators. At least two journalists have also been taken into police custody.
  • The police justified these orders by relying on the new plan for maintaining order, published by the Ministry of the Interior in September 2020. “If journalists cover demonstrations, they must get closer to the prefect ”, indicated Gérald Darmanin this Wednesday. 20 Minutes make the point.

The evening was marked by tear gas jets and clashes between demonstrators and the police on Tuesday, after a rally near the National Assembly against the controversial bill on the “Global security”. The demonstration, at the call of several journalists’ organizations and human rights defense associations, was also marked by the presence of “yellow vests”, who at the same time celebrated their second year of existence. .

An unprecedented fact, several videos posted on social networks showed that the police asked journalists present when the rally was dispersed to leave the premises, like the demonstrators. At least two journalists, a photographer from Taranis News, and
a journalist from France 3 Ile-de-France, were taken into custody on Tuesday evening. A total of 33 people were arrested, the police headquarters said.

On one of these videos, the independent journalist Clément Lanot films a police officer who urges him to leave the premises. In response to the journalist’s requests for clarification, the policeman added: “It is the national pattern of law and order. […]. If there is an order of dispersion, you are obliged to respect it, whatever your quality ”.

But is this really the case?

FAKE OFF

“This is the first time that I have been asked to leave the premises in the same way as the demonstrators”, says Clément Lanot to 20 Minutes. A freelance journalist, he has been covering protests in the capital for over three years. Tuesday evening, around 9 pm, he follows a group of “yellow vests” who leave the Boulevard Saint-Germain and take the direction, “knowingly or not”, of Matignon. The police have already ordered the demonstrators to disperse, but the journalist, clearly identifiable, is no longer in the middle of the crowd, he says.

Faced with clouds of tear gas, the demonstrators disperse, and Clément Lanot returns to Boulevard Saint-Germain. In a street perpendicular to Boulevard Saint-Germain, visibly calm, a police officer takes him to task. “Order of dispersal. Either you go, or I call you! », Launches the policeman.

“If journalists cover demonstrations, they must approach the prefect”

Asked by 20 Minutes during a press conference this Wednesday, the Minister of the Interior, Gerald Darmanin, gave details of the situation: “The Paris police headquarters authorized two demonstrations […] which took place properly, and then which were marked by overflows. There were ten injured, including nine members of the police, street furniture and degraded businesses. “

“The prefect of police said that the demonstrations were over according to the statements of their authors. Protesters not leaving there were then warnings […], and some of these people still not leaving […], it was planned to be able to put an end to this demonstration, which had become illegal, including for journalists, as provided for by the law enforcement plan, ”explained Gerald Darmanin.

“If journalists cover demonstrations, they must, in accordance with the law enforcement plan, approach the prefect of the department to identify themselves, distinguish themselves, be protected by the police and be able to report on their work. journalist. “

No exception for journalists after summons

But what does the national law enforcement plan say about journalists covering the protests? In the first place, this document, which is equivalent to a circular, specifies that “the offense constituted by the fact of remaining in a crowd after summons does not include any exception, including for the benefit of journalists”. “As soon as they are at the heart of a crowd, they must, like any citizen, obey the injunctions of the representatives of the police by positioning themselves outside the demonstrators called to disperse. “

In the case of Clément Lanot, summoned to leave the premises by a police officer, this paragraph does not seem to apply, since he is alone and out of any crowd at the time of the video, estimates the journalist.

For Emmanuel Dreyer, professor of law at the University of Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne, this paragraph of the national law enforcement plan poses a problem: “In the absence of violence committed by the journalist himself or of the actions of the demonstrators to commit […], such a sanction would directly jeopardize the freedom to inform and could seem contrary to Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights ”, writes the specialist. in a note published by the Club des juristes in October 2020.

The issue of accreditation

A second paragraph mentions the accreditation of journalists with the competent authorities, as Gérald Darmanin mentioned during the press conference. “A referent officer can be usefully appointed within the forces and a dedicated exchange channel set up, throughout the event, with journalists, holders of a press card, accredited to the authorities”, specifies the document – omitting in passing that the profession of journalist can be exercised without holding the press card.

There is therefore no question of an obligation for journalists to obtain accreditation in order to be able to report on demonstrations, contrary to what the Minister of the Interior suggests. What confirms to 20 Minutes the police headquarters, where the accreditation procedure is relatively informal – and little known to journalists. “Journalists who plan to cover an event can call us for details on how it will go and thus benefit from a dedicated exchange channel. All journalists do not take contant upstream, but even those who are not accredited can cover the event ”, details the“ PP ”. Has the accreditation procedure been established in accordance with the law enforcement scheme? “We were already doing it before,” one told the Prefecture of Police.

According to the entourage of the Minister of the Interior, this provision of the national plan, which must enter into force no later than January 1, 2021, “Has already been implemented in a number of departments”. “This date is a deadline and a work objective for the services. “

“I don’t know a journalist who has already been accredited! “

“I know a lot of journalists who cover the demonstrations, and not one who has already been accredited to the prefecture! What is the next step ? They will choose which journalist has the right to cover a demonstration? », Protested Clément Lanot. Like him, many professionals have expressed their anger on social networks, worried about this procedure presented as mandatory by the Minister of the Interior.

In this context, the National Union of Journalists (SNJ) and the signatory organizations behind the rally against the proposed law on “global security” denounced this Wednesday “the violence and threats against journalists, committed by security forces at the end of this peaceful gathering ”. SNJ also recalled his opposition to the national plan for maintaining order, “harmful to freedom of the press”.

In the hemicycle, the deputies for their part began examining the text on Tuesday. Its article 24 also worries journalists’ unions. It plans to penalize one year in prison and a fine of 45,000 euros for the dissemination of “the image of the face or any other element of identification” of a police officer or a gendarme in intervention when it has for the purpose of “undermining his physical or mental integrity”.

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