French Senate defends press freedom in rewrite of Macron’s security law

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PARIS (Reuters) – A French bill that allegedly undermines the freedom to circulate images identifying police officers has been watered down by senators after violent street protests forced the government to withdraw.

Lawmakers involved in redrafting the provision said the new wording preserved press freedoms while seeking to protect law enforcement officials from becoming targets of attack.

“We started from a blank page, we completely rewrote the article,” said Senator Marc-Philippe Daubresse of the center-right opposition at a press conference.

Article 24 of President Emmanuel Macron’s first “security law” bill criminalized – punishable by one year in prison and a fine of 45,000 euros ($ 54,000) – the dissemination of images of the police with “a clear intention to harm”.

The provision, said to have been enshrined in France’s 1881 press freedom law, was a key part of Macron’s plans to woo right-wing voters ahead of the 2022 election by being tougher on public order.

But opponents of the article within factions of the president’s ruling party, the opposition and on the street, have called it an attack on free speech at a time when public anger is mounting over the police violence.

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

It prohibits the identification of a law enforcement officer or member of military personnel with the intention of causing them physical or psychological harm.

“Art. 24 now does not interfere in any way with freedom of the press,” said Daubresse. “It does not speak of images at all. This allows journalists and reporters to film and broadcast in full conscience according to their ethics.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin did not react immediately after the publication of the new text on Thursday. Interior Ministry officials did not respond to a request for comment.

The Senate, where conservative Republicans hold a majority, will debate the new text later this month before it goes to a committee of lower and upper house lawmakers.

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


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