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BILL ON PROTECTING JOURNALISTS' SOURCES DOES NOT GO FAR ENOUGH, SAYS RSF

The French government introduced a bill last week that says reporters may have to reveal their sources when "a pressing imperative requires it" - wording that Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and other press freedom organisations say is too vague.

Cases involving terrorism or the kidnapping of a child may qualify under the law as times when journalists in France may have to reveal sources.

RSF has criticised the bill, saying that it does not offer sufficient protection to media professionals. The bill "leaves too much to the interpretation of investigators who alone can assess whether a 'pressing imperative of public interest' justifies an attack on the protection of sources," says RSF.

According to news reports, the bill came after Guillaume Dasquié, a journalist for "Le Monde", was accused in December of publishing state secrets when he wrote an article quoting classified reports that French intelligence services knew of some Al-Qaeda plans before the 11 September 2001 attacks. Dasquié has refused to name the person who gave him the information.

Justice Minister Rachida Dati argued the new legislation promised by President Nicolas Sarkozy during his election last year struck a balance between the rights of journalists and the needs of police and security forces.

But RSF says a protection of sources law should offer a broader definition of the people allowed to withhold their sources of information, and that journalists should have the right to oppose the seizure of any kind of equipment they use to collect and impart information. See all of RSF's recommendations at: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=27024

Debate on the bill opened in parliament as Sarkozy and his governing party faced criticism for accusing the French media of bias. Sarkozy complained during a meeting with deputies from his party earlier this month that several French media, including Agence France-Presse (AFP), "le Parisien" and "l'Express", had failed to properly cover a court decision against his defeated Socialist rival, Ségolène Royal.

"As a candidate, Sarkozy assured us that he believed the media are a key element of democratic life, but he seems to have forgotten these principles as a President and he doesn't hesitate to cry 'censorship' when media do not report the news to his liking. We are outraged by his behaviour," says the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), the regional group of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).

EFJ says that Sarkozy's statements, together with the draft law on protection of sources and his plans to strip advertising revenue from public broadcasters, are "a shocking way to defend press freedom in France," and do not bode well so soon after the presidential elections.

Visit these links:
- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=27024
- IFJ/EFJ: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/93662/
- IFEX France page: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/197/
- AFP via France24.com: http://tinyurl.com/6m6fw7
- Privacy International's Global Survey on Protection of Journalists' Sources: http://tinyurl.com/5xrk4w
(20 May 2008)

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