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Treatment of judicial information on audio-visual: the dilemma of presumption of innocence and freedom of expression

 

How can two constitutional rights be balanced? On the one hand, the right to freedom of expression and access to information, and on the other hand the right to presumption of innocence? This issue is debated during this study day that was organized by the High Authority for Audio-visual Communication (HACA) on 26 September 2017 on the respect of the principle of the presumption of innocence and of judicial proceedings in the audio-visual services.

At the opening session, the participants accused some audio-visual media of disregarding deontology and professional ethics. The findings are overwhelming: the publication of images, photos and videos of prosecuted persons, who are supposed to remain innocent until proven guilty, is a serious violation of the presumption of innocence and an abuse of human dignity.

Amina Lamrini El Ouahabi, President of the HACA, Mohammed Essabbar, Secretary General of the CNDH, Mustapha Ramid, Minister of State for Human Rights, Mohamed Aujjar, Minister of Justice and Mohamed Laarej, Minister of Communication and Culture, have unanimously condemned these practices which can generate catastrophic consequences on the social, professional and political lives of individuals.

In this context, Mohammed Essabbar indicated that the principle of the presumption of innocence, which is the basis of any fair trail, does not apply only to justice and court but to society and all its components including the media. However, he added that some of the media, while searching for scoops and questing for the sensational, violate the confidentiality of investigations and publish names, facts, minutes, even photographs of the accused or the potential victims. Thereby, the principle of the presumption of innocence is violated and the reputation of the victims and the accused is seriously damaged. Furthermore, these practices cannot be justified, under any circumstances, by the right of the media to inform and even less the right of the public to be informed.

This meeting was an opportunity to reflect on a new approach to handle the judicial information with consideration to the right to information and the right to privacy.  Mohamed Aujjar and Mohamed Laarej pointed out that if the adoption of a legal approach based on refreshing some laws (penal code, audio-visual law, etc.) is necessary and crucial, this approach cannot be fruitful without a real reinforcement of the control mechanisms by communication services operators and the control bodies. In this regard, the president of the HACA indicated that following the review of the law 77.33 on audio-visual communication, the HACA is currently reviewing the set of rules of these operators in order to guarantee the respect of deontology and, particularly, the right to the presumption of innocence.

Following the proposals of Mustapha Ramid calling capacity-building of the media professionals to handle court cases, Mohammed Essabbar informed that the CNDH’s National Human Rights Training Institute- Driss Benzekri (INFDH) is ready to provide trainings in this field to media professionals concerned with this issue. 

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