We have previously discussed the alarming rollback on free speech rights in the West, particularly in France (here and here and here and here and here and here and here). Now France is adding an attack on the free press that parallels its growing intolerance for free speech. A reporter from Radio France and the co-founders of Paris-based investigative news organization Disclose are under criminal investigation for their reporting on France’s role in the war in Yemen with the use of leaked secret documents. In the United States, such journalism could get you the Pulitzer. In France, it could get you prison.
I wrote a column after French President Emmanuel Macron received a standing ovation in calling for the United States to follow France’s lead in stomping out some forms of free speech. This case is another example of why France is hardly a jurisdiction worthy of emulation.
The danger is that we are seeing attacks on the free press from not only President Donald Trump but cities like San Francisco.
The French journalists were targeted by the General Directorate for Internal Security (DGSI), which handles terrorism, espionage, and other domestic threats. DGSI was upset about April stories that revealed the massive levels of French, British, and American military equipment sold to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. That material was then sent to Yemen. The stories documented alleged lies by the French government.
Press freedom has been strongly protected in France for more than 130 years under the Press Law of 1881, which gives journalists a right to protect the confidentiality of their sources. The French government is using a 2009 law that makes it an “attack on national defense secrets” to handle classified material without authorization.
It is disheartening to see France (the very bastion of fundamental liberties) to descend so rapidly into the criminalization of speech and journalism.
As with free speech, the United States is increasingly standing alone in the defense of defining rights like the free press. This is why President Trump’s attacks on the press as “the enemy of the people” cannot go without condemnation from both sides of our political divide. The Framers understood that a free press was an essential component to the preservation of liberty. That view has been proven repeatedly in our history as the press (not Congress or the courts) have disclosed great crimes and abuses by our government. France may be cavalier of living without the protections for speech and press, but the United States should never lose faith in these foundational rights if we are to preserve liberty in this country.