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New source secrecy law approved by French Council of Ministers

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New source secrecy law approved by French Council of Ministers

In a report released yesterday by the Chancellery, Prime Minister François Hollande promised that the new law will replace legislation created in 2010 which was revealed to be “inefficient in preventing the violation of source secrecy” (quotations translated into English from a Direct Matin article).

The new law introduces several major changes to the issue of source secrecy. Most notably, it bans of all violations of source secrecy (listening in on phone calls, demanding access to phone records, conducting police searches), except when these activities are justified by “the prevention or the repression of a serious violation of a person, or a violation of the nation’s fundamental interests.” Severer criminal punishments for any such violations of source secrecy will be dealt out, with fines set at between 30,000 and 75,000 euros.

The new law, figure-headed by Minister of Justice Christiane Taubira (pictured), also extends the protection of source secrecy to any individuals involved in the editorial process of a piece of journalism, for example, computer technicians and couriers.

Furthermore, in support of their “mission to inform,” journalists will receive a certain degree of exemption from crimes such as violating the confidentiality of professional secrets and judicial investigations, or violating privacy. They will, of course, not receive absolute immunity from these offences: when unveiling confidential information about a political scandal, they will; when exposing confidential details of a celebrity’s private life, they will not. 

The law of 2010 certainly made progress in France by bringing to light the principle of source protection. However, it allowed investigations into journalists’ sources to take place if these investigations could be justified by an “imperative that dominated the public interest” – something of a get-out clause that could be interpreted very loosely, and therefore disappointed journalists. In June 2012, Taubira insisted on the necessity to revise this blurry legislation which seemed to provide nothing but a grey area open to twisted interpretations, hence triggering yesterday's approval of a new law which has been received with much greater favour by the French journalistic profession.

At the beginning of 2012, Le Monde pressed charges against former public prosecutor Philippe Courroye for having lead investigations two years earlier into the identity of the sources used by journalist Gérard Davet in the paper’s investigative piece on the police’s search of L’Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt’s home. On 5 May, the Bordeaux Administrative Court of Appeal decided that this investigation into Davet’s sources was indeed illegal – Courroye had asked the French police to procure the telephone records for two journalists, and then made a record of their incoming and outgoing calls and SMS exchanges between 23 July and 2 September 2010 – and hereby cancelled the investigation.

More recently, two judges from Lille – ignoring the recommendations of the Public Prosecutor’s department – planned to requisition the phone records of journalists from Le Monde, Le Parisien, L’Express and Le Point in order to investigate their “violation of the confidentiality of a judicial investigation” concerning the Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair.

According to government spokesperson, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, Hollande has embraced the new law as part of his “commitment to reinforcing the Republic of France’s exemplary nature following the incidents of the past.” He also spoke of the new law’s potential to reinforce the “independence of the justice system” and to strengthen the “moralisation of political life.”



2013-06-13 17:18

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