After a team of French journalists from Capa Agency gave Canadian and French police 22 names of suspected pedophiles, French media isn’t sure if that was the right thing to do. The French media and its union for journalists have denounced the group for both going undercover and for turning names over to the police.
The team worked undercover for almost a year to produce a documentary on child pornography and pedophilia. As The Herald Sun reported, “Reporters from the Capa agency used the Internet to get in touch with people in France and Canada who allegedly professed an interest in child pornography or having sex with children.”
Much of the coverage of both the Capa agency’s reporting and the media’s reaction is in French. The main report circulating in English, apparently written by AFP, has been picked up and reposted by other Web sites, including The Herald Sun’s.
The documentary aired April 7 on state-run France 2 TV as part of a series called “The Infiltrators.” According to Capa TV’s Web site, “The Infiltrators” program will air each week starting this month and will reveal the actions of certain illegal networks. As The Herald Sun wrote “The reporters, whose investigation took almost a year, either pretended to be children surfing the Web or prospective buyers of child porn.”
The Herald Sun reported, “The left-leaning daily Liberation, whose front-page headline asked ‘Journalists or Stool Pigeons?’, condemned the film in an editorial, arguing that reporters should never assume a false identity to get a story.”
“The Syndicat National des Journalistes, France’s biggest union for reporters, denounced the filmmakers, saying such tactics risked ‘ruining our profession’.”
From a Google translation of French newspapers’ coverage and this reporter’s limited knowledge of the French language, it appears that while Capa agency sought to expose some loopholes in child pornography laws, the undercover methods used to report and the turning over of names to the police are the most contentious issues.
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French daily newspaper Liberation wrote that hiding behind cameras and law enforcement is not the way journalism works in order to expose wrongs. French daily newspaper Le Monde questioned the legitimacy of a journalist’s reporting criminal activity to the police.
But, if in any journalistic investigation a crime is discovered, is it not the duty of the journalist to report it to the proper authorities? After identifying criminals, it seems the French journalists have an obligation to reveal that information.
Le Monde reported that the secretary general of the Syndicat national des journalistes Dominique Pradalié said that when a someone is working as a journalist, protection of sources is necessary and that to reveal sources ruins journalism.
The Le Monde report also noted the charter that French journalists are expected to follow. A Google translate of the section reads:
“A journalist worthy of the name, it reads, agrees not to invoke an imaginary title or quality, to use unfair means to obtain information or to surprise the good faith of any person; (…) keep confidential professional (…) is the scruple and concern for justice rules first, do not confuse his role with the policeman. “
StinkyJournalism has contacted Capa Agency, the Syndicat National des Journalistes, the Society for Professional Journalists, and the Poynter Institute for comment and will update with any response.