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France4 March 2009

Anger over new case of journalists being treated as “police auxiliaries or even criminals”

Reporters Without Borders is shocked by a raid on the TV production company Tac Presse in a Parisian suburb on 2 March in connection with a documentary about Martinique in which a member of the French Caribbean island’s white business elite, Alain Huyghues-Despointes, made racist comments.

The comments sparked a controversy after the Tac Presse documentary, called “The Last Masters of Martinique” and directed by Romain Bolzinger, was broadcast by the national TV station Canal + in its “Spécial Investigation” slot on 30 January. The Martinique prosecutor’s office began on 9 February to investigate Huyghues-Despointes on suspicion of “condoning a crime against humanity and inciting racial tension.” Huyghues-Despointes meanwhile claimed his comments were taken out of context.

The 2 March raid was carried out by five plain-clothes police officers, an investigating judge and a court clerk as part of this investigation. They searched Tac Presse’s offices and viewed the master (original) of the documentary but took nothing away. Many journalists were present for the raid, having gone there after being alerted by Tac Presse that it was about to take place. The production company handed over the master yesterday.

Prior to the raid, the investigators had asked Tac Presse to provide the rushes (original raw footage) of its interview with Huyghues-Despointes. The production responded that it had not kept the rushes but that, precisely because of the controversial nature of his comments, it had included them in their entirety, without any editing, in the documentary.

“Journalists have once again been treated as police auxiliaries or even as criminals,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Such methods are all the more out of place in this case as the interviewee’s comments could have been manipulated but the journalists chose not to edit them and had no other footage. What was the point of this raid ? It is hard to believe that the investigation could not have continued in Martinique without the rushes.”

Reporters Without Borders continued : “It is shocking that despite the justifiable outcry about Vittorio de Filippis’ early-morning arrest at his home last November, the French authorities still think it is normal and appropriate to carry out a raid on a media company. France sadly holds the European record for targeting journalists with court summonses, judicial investigations and arrests.”

The former publisher of Libération, De Filippis was arrested at his Paris home on the morning of 28 November, taken to a detention centre, given a body search and finally taken before a judge, who told him he was being investigated in connection with a defamation complaint.

The press freedom organisation added : “The authorities undertook a few months ago to protect the confidentiality of journalists’ sources but the relevant bill has still not had its second reading by the National Assembly. This latest episode demonstrates the urgent need for a law protecting sources and establishing rules for raids and searches.”

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