Respect for religious beliefs and private life and for the right not to reveal journalistic sources were at the centre of the press freedom debate during 2006.
The managing editor of the daily France Soir, Jacques Lefranc, was dismissed by the paper’s French-Egyptian owner, Raymond Lakah, for reprinting 12 cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed on 1 February that were first published by a Danish newspaper. Five days later, on 6 February, a bomb threat was made to the paper.
The day before, a fire extinguisher had been placed outside the offices of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, hinting at an imminent attack. A legal effort by Muslim organisations, including the French Muslim Council (CFCM), to obtain seizure of the issue of the weekly devoted entirely to the cartoons, failed on 7 February. The CFCM began legal action on 10 February against French papers that had reprinted the cartoons. An article in the daily Le Figaro by philosophy teacher Robert Redeker headed “What should the free world do about Islamist intimidation?” got the issue of the paper banned in Egypt and Tunisia. Redeker was given police protection after getting death threats and had to stop his teaching activities.
So-called “revisionist” laws also substituted ideology for debate, as shown by the National Assembly’s passage of a Socialist proposal banning denial of the 1915 Armenian massacres on pain of five years in prison and a fine of €45,000 euros, thus helping to build an official version of history and shutting down debate, which is against the principle of freedom of expression.
As in the previous year, 2006 saw numerous prosecutions of journalists in a bid to make them reveal their sources. Justice minister Pascal Clément promised however to include privacy of sources in the revised 1881 press law. This did not stop the formal investigation of six journalists for “possessing legally confidential material” (two journalists of L’Equipe), “violating professional secrecy” (Midi Libre) and “violating confidentiality” (in the Clearstream corruption scandal). A Paris court’s dismissal of charges against journalist Claude Ardid on 14 November was a welcome contrast. The court said a journalist’s only job was to help inform the public, including in ongoing legal cases, and could not be interfered with except where freedom of expression was abused but not because of violations of secrecy that have helped to inform the public.”
The aim of restricting journalists is also behind the protection of the private life of public figures. The dismissal of Alain Genestar as editor of Paris-Match in June 2006 aroused strong protests. He said he had been removed because he printed a cover photo on 25 August 2005 of conservative leader Nicolas Sarkozy’s wife Cécilia in New York with her boyfriend. The magazine’s owners, Lagardère, a friend of Nicolas Sarkozy, claimed he had been dismissed because of a “professional” dispute.
The situation remained worrying in New Caledonia, where the media was frequently accused in local conflicts. Things at the broadcaster RFO returned to normal in November after eight months of intermittent disputes. But the printing press of the weekly paper Les Infos was shut down in late August and early September, and that of the daily Les Nouvelles calédoniennes briefly in November. Journalists were frequently barred from press conferences or prevented from filming.