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Censoring amateur video on the Web.

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France

The French are more interested in protecting the cops than protecting the people, said Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung in an editorial. France just passed a law criminalizing the filming and display of “acts of violence” witnessed on the street. The law, the brainchild of Interior Minister (and presidential candidate) Nicolas Sarkozy, was aimed at the youth phenomenon known as “happy slapping.” Invented by British yobs, “happy slapping” involves punching a total stranger in the face for no reason as an accomplice films the attack for posting on the Internet. Journalists are exempt from the ban on filming. But critics say the law is still too broad. If the U.S. had had such a law, the bystander who videotaped the 1991 Rodney King beating could have been arrested. Some speculate that discouraging people from filming police brutality is exactly the point. As interior minister, Sarkozy is in charge of the police. And he has been pushing for more leeway for cops in quelling riots.

Happy slapping is a real problem, said Laurence Girard in France’s Le Monde. It’s true that it’s not as bad here, where we’ve had just 20 incidents in two years, as it is in Britain, which logged more than 200 attacks in six months. Our youth, though, use violent images not merely as entertainment, but also as incitement to riot. Camera-phone shots of kids burning cars, taken during the immigrant riots of 2005, were disseminated last spring to encourage demonstrations against a youth employment law. Still, forbidding people to record events occurring in the public space around them is a tricky business. The French press freedom group Ligue Odebi says France has just crowned itself “the Western country that most infringes on freedom of expression and information.” And how, the group asks, does the government expect to distinguish between “professional journalists,” who are allowed to post videos of violence, and “citizen journalists,” who are not? Will it institute a licensing board? Maybe it will resort to “totalitarian surveillance of the Net?”

Jean-Marc Leclerc

Le Figaro

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