There is an interesting lawsuit in France by six survivors of the January attack by Islamic extremist Amedy Coulibaly at the Hyper Casher Jewish supermarket in Paris. The six people were mortified after learning that French media broadcasted their hiding location in a refrigerator while Coulibaly was looking for hostages and threatening to kill them all.
As a matter of journalistic ethics (and common sense) it was outrageous when media like the French 24-hour news channel BFMTV broadcast the location of the six people, including a three-year-old child and a one-month-old baby. I cannot imagine the level of callous and moronic judgment needed to broadcast such a fact when the gunman could have been listening.
However, there remains the question of whether there is a viable claim when in fact that six were not discovered. This lawsuit is the result of French laws allowing charges for endangering the lives of others by deliberately ignoring security protocols. It carries a maximum penalty of a year in prison and 15,000-euro ($16,300) fine.
I cannot speak to the French law but in the United States, the plaintiffs would face serious challenges. First, they were not made aware of the betrayal of their location until after the event — undermining claims of emotional distress. Moreover, the emotional injuries from the encounter were due to the actions of a murderous fanatic, not the media.
In the end, I would be highly uncomfortable with a ruling against the media even though I find the actions of these journalists to reprehensible and thoughtless. Indeed, I would support the firing of those responsible for these broadcasts. Yet, the notion of liability for reporting public facts is a dangerous rollback on press freedom, particularly in France which has led Europe in attacks on both free speech and free press.