The French National Assembly has passed a Bill which includes a section which may make it harder for the media to report on the activities of the police.

The controversial provision of the Global Security Bill, Article 24, which was passed on 24 November, forbids the publication of images that allow the identification of a law enforcement officer ‘with the intent to cause them harm, physically or mentally.’

The Bill will now be considered by the French Senate in December.

In a statement before Tuesday’s vote, the officer of the French Prime Minister, Jean Castex, said the new law should not ‘prejudice the legitimate interest of the public to be informed.’

Many disagree, however, and the legislation has already led to protests and marches by those concerned about its implications for France, a country where there is a particular tension between a healthy culture of protest, and a sometimes authoritarian and heavy-handed approach to policing.

Demonstrators in Paris have included representatives of the media among their number, along with “gilets jaunes” protestors, and members of Extinction Rebellion.

Those who support the Bill point to it being required after police officers were identified and harassed online during the gilets jaunes protests of 2018 and 2019.

They also refer to the fact that any prosecution would depend on the need to show an ‘intent to cause harm.’

Reporters Without Borders have responded that this provision is too vague. ‘Intent is a concept that is open to interpretation and hard to determine,’ the organisation said.

‘Any photos or video showing identifiable police officers that are published or broadcast by critical media outlets or are accompanied by critical comments could find themselves being accused of seeking to harm these police officers,’ the group said.

In this country, there is in principle nothing to prevent the identification of police officers by the media when they are in public, and in the context of legal proceedings.

The English courts have seen attempts to anonymise police officers, soldiers, and members of the security services in the context of cases involving terrorism or national security.

However, the test that typically applies in these circumstances is a high one, of showing a real and immediate, objectively verifiable threat to life, and as a result is rarely satisfied.

Harassment such as that which the French legislation is supposed to prevent could in this country be addressed under existing law.

In granting a special status to police officers where images of them are to be published, the French legislation would be a departure from the norm, which gives rise to understandable concerns for the media.