Most readers will have heard that the IMF director was arrested a few days ago in New York City and is accused of sexual assault against a young hotel maid. Many readers will also have seen the accused waiting in court, or leaving the NYPD premises. Handcuffed.
Well, non-French based readers should know how lucky they are. In France, it has been forbidden since 2001 to show an accused handcuffed. The rationale for the rule is that showing the accused handcuffed damages badly his reputation at a stage of the proceedings where he is presumed to be innocent. Any person breaching this command of the law can be fined up to € 15,000 (for details on the French rules, see here).
Now, of course, the application of French criminal law is territorial. This means that the persons concerned by such prohibition should be first and foremost French newspapers and televisions. But what about websites directing their activities towards France? Or simply accessible in France?
In any case, French televisions have been showing over and over again Mr Strauss Kahn walking handcuffed out of the Police premises in NYC. French journalists have said that they have considered the prohibition, but quickly to decide that given that all other media in the world would be showing the litigious pictures, they should and would as well. And we have not heard of any prosecution.
How is that possible? Several explanations could be offered.
- One could first think that the French media have made a simple cost-benefit analysis and realised that they might make much more than €15,000 by showing the pictures. Indeed, the audience of News at 8 main programmes have increased remarkably in the first few days following the arrest. But how could one explain, then, that enforcement authorities did not even try to enforce the relevant law.
- Is globalisation preventing them from actually doing so? Have French authorities concluded that, given that all other laws allow these pictures, there is no point trying to enforce the local law?