Macworld is reporting that the French Constitutional Council approved legislation that criminalizes the filming, broadcasting, or hosting of acts of violence by persons other than professional journalists. The law ostensibly was designed to curb the practice of happy slapping, in which a staged attack is filmed by an accomplice, typically to be posted on a site such as YouTube.
The broadly-written law, however, could lead to the jailing of eyewitnesses who film acts of police violence or rioting, as well as operators of Web sites that publish such footage. Under the law, anyone publishing such images could face up to five years in prison and a fine of €75,000 (US$98,537).
The French government is also considering a certification system for blog hosts, mobile-phone operators, ISPs, and even individual websites, which would identify them as "government-approved sources of information." The journalists’ organization Reporters Without Borders argues that this could lead to "excessive self censorship," given the fact that site owners and hosts might suppress some types of news for fear of losing their certifications.
I trust that enough media attention will be brought to this poorly-written law to get it modified. While I find "happy slapping" to be a repugnant form of bullying - especially when the victim is unaware of the plot - the French law will only serve to chill freedom of the press. Happy slapping filmmakers will simply host their work on a non-French site, and unwitting dupes will still get slapped around as long as there is an audience for this idiocy.
Perhaps the surest form of justice might be found in this Happy Slap Gone Wrong video, in which the boyfriend of a happy slap victim kicks the arses of the would-be happy slappers.