The French government said Wednesday that a security bill under debate in parliament would not prevent journalists or witnesses from recording police officers in action.
The government said the proposed law, which was the subject of protests in Paris and other cities on Tuesday, is intended to protect police officers from online calls for violence. Critics fear that if enacted, the measure would impinge on the rights of journalists.
Scuffles broke out between protesters and police in the capital on Tuesday evening at the end of a largely peaceful demonstration near the National Assembly, where French lawmakers are debating the bill.
Paris police used water cannons and tear gas to disperse the crowd and asked some journalists to leave the scene.
French government spokesperson Gabriel Attal said he noted the “doubts, concerns, criticism” over the proposed bill.
“There is an absolute right to film and broadcast law enforcement operations by security forces during a protest,” he said.
The proposed law is championed by lawmakers of President Emmanuel Macron’s party, which has a majority in the National Assembly. Lawmakers are scheduled to vote next week on the bill, which will then go to the Senate.
The most controversial provision would make it a new criminal offence to publish “with the intent of causing physical or psychological harm” an image that could identify a police officer.
A conviction would carry a maximum penalty of up to one year in prison and a 45,000-euro ($53,000) fine.
Critics, including the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights at the United Nations, France’s human rights ombudsman and Reporters Without Borders, fear the law would lead to potential violations of fundamental media freedoms.
They say the measure would endanger journalists and other people who take videos of officers at work, especially during violent demonstrations. They also worry how courts would determine whether images were posted with intent to harm.