NEW YORK—The criminal charges brought in France against photojournalist Maya Vidon-White for pictures she took during the Bataclan terrorist attack in Paris are a troubling, overbroad application of a well-intentioned law that could result in restricted press coverage of important news events, PEN said in a statement today.

A freelance photographer, Vidon-White was on the scene at the Bataclan taking photographs in the aftermath of the attack for the U.S. company United Press International (UPI). UPI then sold her photographs to MaxPPP, a French agency, which then sold them to the French magazine VSD. One of the photos printed in VSD was of a man being treated by emergency workers—in the magazine, his face was not blurred to conceal its features, and his face was bloodied. In addition, VSD captioned the photograph as one of a “survivor” of the attack, though the man died from his injuries after the picture was taken. As a result, the victim’s family sued both VSD and Vidon-White for violating the dignity of the victim under France’s 2000 Guigou Law, even though Vidon-White had had no control over the presentation of the photograph in VSD.

Originally passed in the aftermath of the 1995 Paris metro bombing, the Guigou Law seeks to prevent photographs that “violate the dignity of terrorist attack victims” from being published. Well-intentioned though the law may be, it poses a significant threat because it singles out journalists for prosecution simply for doing their jobs. The fact that the law is being applied against a photojournalist who had no control over who bought the rights to her photographs and how they were published sets a worrying precedent for press freedom in France. If Vidon-White is found guilty and forced to pay a fine as well as legal fees, her case could create a dangerous chilling effect for journalists and photojournalists, potentially reducing press coverage of breaking news events like terrorist attacks, thus harming the free flow of information to the public. 

“The charges against Maya Vidon-White should be dropped immediately,” said Katy Glenn Bass, deputy director of PEN’s free expression programs. “As a journalist, she has a right and a duty to document important events. Her prosecution under the Guigou law—despite having no control over the photo’s ultimate presentation inVSD—illustrates the urgent need for France to revise this law to prevent self-censorship by journalists and protect the public’s right of access to information.”

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