France12 September 2002
Reporters Without Borders joins reporter’s court case to defend journalistic sources
Reporters Without Borders said today it was associating itself as a civil party with the legal efforts of French journalist Laid Sammari to defend his right not to reveal his sources in the face of police tapping of his phone as part of their investigation of the 1998 murder of the French prefect (governor) of Corsica, Claude Érignac.
"This case is symbolic of the ever-increasing challenge in France to the protection of a journalist’s sources," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard told a press conference. "Journalists must not become police assistants. Their job is to inform the public, not be police informers.
"The trust between a journalist and his source is one of the key foundations of investigative journalism," he said. "Keeping sources secret is necessary, both for the quality of information and for the independence of the media." The phone of Sammari, who works for the French daily paper L’Est Républicain, was ordered tapped earlier this year by the National Anti-Terrorist Division under article 226-1 of the penal code concerning invasion of privacy.
Six other French journalists have been placed under electronic surveillance for similar reasons over the past two years. In September last year, reporter-photographer Jean-Pierre Rey, a Corsica specialist with the Gamma agency, was arrested and held for questioning for nearly four days during which police exerted pressure on him to reveal his sources. In the previous 20 months, four other journalists had been held for questioning.
Reporters Without Borders deplores this narrow view of freedom of expression by French legal authorities in total contradiction with rulings of the European Court of Human Rights.
The organisation wrote to French justice minister Dominique Perben on 10 September calling for article 109-2 of the penal procedure code to be amended to protect journalists’ rights not to reveal their sources. Reporters Without Borders also advocates overhauling press laws that make France one of Europe’s most reactionary countries in this field.