French senate defends press freedoms in re-write of Macron's security law

Elizabeth Pineau
·2 min read
FILE PHOTO: French President Macron visits a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination center in Bobigny

By Elizabeth Pineau

PARIS (Reuters) - Draft French legislation that would have impinged upon the freedom to circulate images identifying police officers has been watered down by senators after violent street protests forced a government climb-down.

Lawmakers involved in a re-drafting of the provision said the new wording safeguarded press freedoms while seeking to protect law enforcement agents from becoming the target of attack.

"We've started from a blank page, we've completely re-written the article," Senator Marc-Philippe Daubresse from the opposition centre-right told a news conference.

Article 24 of the fist draft of President Emmanuel Macron's 'Security Law' made it a crime - punishable by a year in prison and a 45,000 euro ($54,000) fine - to diffuse images of the police with “obvious intention to harm”.

The provision, which would have been written into France's 1881 law on press freedom, was a key plank in Macron's plans to court right-wing voters ahead of a 2022 election by being tougher on law and order.

But opponents of the article within factions of the president's own ruling party, the opposition and on the streets, branded it an attack on free speech at a time of mounting public anger over police violence.

The revised article is no longer written into the 19th century law enshrining a free press and makes no reference to the publication of photographs or videos.

It outlaws the identification of a law enforcement agent or military personnel with the intent to bring them physical or psychological harm.

"Art. 24 now in no way interferes with press freedom," Daubresse said. "It does not speak at all about images. This allows journalists and reporters to film and broadcast conscientiously according to their ethics."

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin did not immediately react after the new text was made public on Thursday. Interior ministry officials did not respond to a request for comment.

The Senate, where the conservative Les Republicains hold a majority, will debate the new text later this month before it passes to a committee of lawmakers from the lower and upper chambers.

If the committee agrees on the amended bill, it will be adopted without a second vote in the National Assembly.

(Reporting by Elizabeth Pineau; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Toby Chopra)