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Review of press law underway in France raises concern

On 30 September the Senate completed a project of revision of the press law in force – which dates back from 1881 – with the intention to “repair more efficiently the abuses of freedom of expression”, and their potentially exacerbated gravity when the Internet is the means of publication.

by Nick Tjaardstra nick.tjaardstra@wan-ifra.org | October 5, 2016

French press trade associations jointly condemned the initiative, highlighting how “the provisions on freedom of expression in the law dated 1881 are “essential to democratic life”.

A highly contested provision of the proposal regards the changes to the statute of limitations, which so far is limited to three months since publication of the offending piece of news.  In the novel text this time period would be modified, only for online news, to be three months since when the information stops to be made available to the public.

Opposers argue that the proposal should be rejected on grounds that it creates discrimination at the expense of online publishers, but most of all because it would virtually suppress the statute of limitations entirely, considering that news rarely get unpublished on the Internet.

Another troublesome change regards the press offences, which are presently strictly enumerated in the law of 1881. The proposed amendments would expand the jurisdiction to civil judges, with a risk to see publishers prosecuted for any article that is “unpleasant” to somebody.

The law was adjusted throughout the last century to mirror the changes in the press industry and the last significant adaptation happened in 2004. The discussion on the text started in the French Senate on 4th October.