The attack on the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo has sent shock waves through France and beyond. Not only because 12 people have been killed in cold blood and many were wounded in what was the deadliest terrorist attack in France since 1961, when right wingers bombed a train killing 28 people. Not only because, after an attack in neighboring Belgium last May and French citizens joining extremist fighters in Syria and Iraq in recent months, the country feared something dramatic might happen soon, and that it eventually did.
In the course of a couple of hours on Wednesday, France was rocked by two judicial decisions with profound political repercussions for French politics and the press' right to publish. Just as a baffled public learned that former President Nicolas Sarkozy had been put under formal investigation for corruption and influence-peddling, France's highest court, the Cour de Cassation, upheld a July 2013 lower court ruling ordering the muckraking news website Mediapart to take down 72 articles related to "l'affaire Bettencourt." It's a fight destined to continue, with a founder of Mediapart vowing to take the free-press case to the European Court of Human Rights.
A new document on freedom of expression and opinion, adopted May 12 by the 28 foreign ministers of the European Union, presses nearly all the right buttons. Drawing its inspiration from international human rights norms as well as from the EU's treaties and its charter of fundamental rights, the document reaffirms the role of freedom of opinion and expression as "an essential foundation for democracy, rule of law, peace, stability, sustainable inclusive development, and participation in public affairs." It also makes a strong case for free and independent journalism. The ministers committed the EU and member states to the defense of journalists' freedom and safety, and endorsed watchdog journalism as a decisive factor in "uncovering abuses of power, shining a light on corruption, and questioning received opinion."
For the second time this year, the U.N. Security Council took up the issue of protection of journalists. In a discussion today sponsored by the French and Guatemalan delegations, and open to NGOs, speaker after speaker and country after country hammered home the same essential facts: The vast majority of journalists murdered around the world are local reporters working in their own country, covering human rights, corruption, conflict and politics. In nine out of ten of these murders, no one is ever prosecuted.
Two murdered journalists for the Africa service of Radio France Internationale, Ghislaine Dupont, 51, and Claude Verlon, 58, might have had a chance. They were abducted on November 2 in Kidal in northern Mali, but the vehicle their captors were driving suddenly broke down, according to news reports.
At midnight on Monday, the French news website Mediapart complied with the Versailles court of appeal which last week ordered the site to withdraw articles referring to the Bettencourt recordings--the secret tapings of Liliane Bettencourt, the richest woman in France, by her butler. Mediapart as well as the newsweekly Le Point had been sued for violation of privacy by the Bettencourt family and by the L'Oréal heiress' legal tutor and fund manager, Patrice de Maistre. Le Point withdrew its articles on Friday.
Three years ago, revelations by the independent news website Mediapart on the "Bettencourt affair"-- allegations of illegal funding of former President Nicolas Sarkozy's conservative UMP party by the heiress of the L'Oréal fortune, Liliane Bettencourt--put the fledgling site on the map, helped it build a reputation as a dogged and fearless muckraker, and boosted its subscriber base.
Diplomats are charged with promoting cordial and constructive ties between nations. But Chinese embassy officials in France and Thailand appear bent on fostering fear and disgust with recent efforts to harass and intimidate France 24 reporter Cyril Payen.
Three weeks after France's military intervention in Mali, the war remains largely "without images and without facts," as described by Jean-Paul Mari, special envoy for the newsweekly Le Nouvel Observateur. Although journalists have been allowed to follow French and Malian forces into the towns that have been recovered from armed Islamist groups, the real battlefields and front lines remain off limits.
Do you believe the free flow of information must be protected? Sign the #RightToReport petition and demand that President Obama immediately:
1. Issue a presidential policy directive prohibiting the hacking and surveillance of journalists and media organizations.
2. Limit aggressive prosecutions that ensnare journalists and intimidate whistleblowers.
3. Prevent the harassment of journalists at the U.S. border.
Or click here to see the full petition, and join leading journalists like Christiane Amanpour, The Guardian’s Alan Rusbridger, Editor of the AP Kathleen Carroll, and Arianna Huffington in signing on.