A protester raises his fist in front of security forces during a demonstration in Paris on December 15, 2018, to protest rising costs of living and high taxes. Dozens of journalists have been attacked and some injured by both protesters and police. (Zakaria Abdelkafi/AFP)
A protester raises his fist in front of security forces during a demonstration in Paris on December 15, 2018, to protest rising costs of living and high taxes. Dozens of journalists have been attacked and some injured by both protesters and police. (Zakaria Abdelkafi/AFP)

Police, ‘yellow vest’ protesters both target journalists in France, Belgium

Dozens of journalists covering anti-government protests in France and Belgium in November and December of 2018 suffered attacks by the demonstrators and the police, according to press and social media reports.

The demonstrations, dubbed “yellow vest” protests after the high visibility gear worn by the participants, started as an online movement in May 2018 and led to the street demonstrations against rising fuel prices and the cost of living beginning November 17, 2018.

On November 18, the TV industry news website TeleLoisirs reported that a protester threw what appeared to be an egg on the head of Raphaël Maillochon, a correspondent for the BFMTV TV station, the previous day in Paris as he was preparing for his live transmission. On November 19, the local radio station Bip in Besancon, eastern France, said in a press release that a group of demonstrators insulted its crew, a reporter, and cameraman (whose names it did not disclose) covering the protests on November 17 in the city, and the cameraman was subject to racial slur. On November 20, the French edition of the news website Huffington Post said that around 50 protesters demonstrated in front of the headquarters of BFMTV TV station in Paris, chanting negative slogans about the journalists and calling them liars.

On November 20, correspondent Vinciane Votron of the Belgian public TV channel RTBF reported live that the protesters were aggressive toward her and her crew, but did not provide specifics, in Feluy, Belgium.

On November 24, French public TV channel France 3 reported that in Toulouse, southern France, a crowd of around 200 protesters followed and harrassed a crew of two reporters for BFMTV TV, Jean-Wilfried Forquès and Maxime Sounillac, while the police did not intervene to protect the journalists. The same day, protesters threw projectiles at a crew from CNews TV station in Toulouse, France 3 reported, without naming the crew. The Huffington Post reported, also without giving names, that demonstrators hit journalists of from Midi-Libre, a daily newspaper in Béziers, southern France.

On November 25, the Belgian daily newspaper Le Soir reported that Patrick Lefèbvre, a journalist working for the Derniere Heure daily newspaper in Charleroi, Belgium, was arrested while covering the demonstrations. The journalist told the newspaper that while he was filming the protest, the police first warned him to leave the premises and when he continued reporting, they took him to a police station and held him for the night.

On November 30, Belgian public channel RTBF reported that police briefly arrested Rémy Buisine, a French reporter for the news website Brut, on November 30, 2018, in Brussels while he was streaming live coverage on Facebook.

On December 8, two photographers working for the Le Parisien daily newspaper were hit by flash guns in Paris. Yann Foreix was rushed to the hospital for a check-up after being hit in the s neck and the other journalist, who was not named, was hit in their knee, the newspaper reported. On the same day, Boris Kharlamoff, a journalist for the audio press agency A2PRL, published a photo on his Twitter account showing a wound and saying police fired flash balls at him although he wore his press badge.

Also on December 8, the weekly newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche reported that its photojournalist Eric Dessons suffered a broken arm when police special forces clashed with demonstrators. The journalist, who wore press identification, was hospitalized and underwent an operation, the newspaper said. The same day, French news agency Agence France-Press (AFP), without citing names, reported that one of its photographers suffered light wounds in Puy-en-Velay, in southern France; a journalist and a cameraman for the news website Explicite were shot by flash balls in Paris; and a video team for the daily newspaper Le Figaro was jostled by protesters in the capital. AFP also reported that several journalists complained about police confiscating their protective equipment, exposing them to physical harm.

Reuters reported on December 10 that one of its camera operators, who it didn’t name, was wounded as he was hit by a flash ball in Bordeaux covering the protests on December 8. The daily newspaper, Liberation, quoted Wilfrid Estève, the head of the photo agency Hans Lucas, as saying that police targeted around 15 of its reporters–although they were wearing press badges–either by shooting flash guns or grenades or confiscating their protective equipment. It did not provide names of the 15 reporters. Liberation said one of its reporters, Nicolas Descottes, was wounded in the face due to flash balls, and another two, Stéphane Lagoutte and Cyril Zannettacci, were also hit by police flash balls during the demonstrations on December 8.

On December 10, four French journalists’ unions asked to be urgently received by President Emmanuel Macron in the wake of the police violence against reporters and photojournalists during the demonstrations, daily newspaper Le Figaro reported.

On December 11, the daily newspaper Ouest France reported that following the union protest, French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner, who oversees the police, issued a communiqué asking journalists to file official complaints about the police, which he said would be promptly investigated. On December 14, 2018 the daily newsparer Le Monde reported that 24 journalists and photographers had already filed complaints against the police.