second try for "happy slap"--sorry for the format messup

David Bergdahl dlbrgdhl at GMAIL.COM
Thu Mar 8 21:13:37 UTC 2007

CNN has an AP story online today abt the French ban on happy slapping,
a British import, in which kids w/cell phone cameras record--and
subsequently display online--an attack on someone, usually someone
known, for the purpose of degrading the public image of the person
attacked.  A colleague is designing the stage set for a play about
happy slapping, which is how I heard abt it.  The practice has spread
from its London origin: Wikipedia gives a chronology beginning June

Happy slap' crackdown sparks row
                POSTED: 1:45 p.m. EST, March 8, 2007

Story Highlights
• New law in France forbids filming and Net posting of real-world violence
 • Critics call it a clumsy, near-totalitarian effort to battle "happy
 • Violators of the law will be subject to up to 5 years' jail and
€75,000 in fines

PARIS, France (AP) -- A new law in France makes it a crime --
punishable by up to five years in prison -- for anyone who is not a
professional journalist to film real-world violence and distribute the
images on the Internet.

Critics call it a clumsy, near-totalitarian effort by authorities to
battle "happy slapping" -- the youth fad of filming violent acts --
which most often they have provoked themselves -- and spreading the
images on the Web or between mobile phones.

The measure, tucked deep into a vast anti-crime law that took effect
Wednesday, took media advocates by surprise with what they say is an
undesirable side effect: trampling on freedom of expression.

Experts said the law is the first of its kind in Europe. France made
headlines years ago by ordering U.S.-based online company Yahoo to pay
a fine of about $15 million for displaying Nazi memorabilia for sale
-- in violation of French law.

The new provision takes on "happy slapping," a phenomenon whose name
belies the gravity of the attacks. It mostly involves youths, and the
victims often are strangers.

Violators of the law, passed in parliament in February, will be
subject to up to five years in prison and €75,000 in fines ($98,600).
It was championed by Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who is a top
contender in France's presidential election in April and May.

The law was published in the government's Official Journal on
Wednesday, bringing it into effect, after the Constitutional Council
gave its final approval over the weekend.

Ligue Odebi, an association that seeks to protect freedom of
expression on the Internet, said the measure will also hinder
citizens' abilities to expose police brutality.

"This makes France the Western country that most infringes on freedom
of expression and information -- particularly on the Internet," the
group said in a statement on its Web site,

"Identifying uploaders (of such images) would require the creation of
a totalitarian surveillance of the Net," the group said.

Ligue Odebi noted that the council's approval Saturday fell on the
16th anniversary of the March 3, 1991, beating of motorist Rodney King
by Los Angeles police officers in a scene captured on amateur video --
a case that sparked a national outcry in the United States.

The French law says that anyone who "knowingly" films illegal acts of
violence and distributes the images can be considered an accomplice --
but that professional journalists are exempt.

French authorities have been seeking new ways to combat youth violence
after a wave of rioting, car burnings and violence mostly in poor
neighborhoods on the fringe of Paris and other cities in 2005.

Media advocacy group Reporters Without Borders said it understood the
government's need to crack down on "happy slapping," but feared the
law draws a "dangerous" distinction that would punish "regular
citizens" for doing what journalists are allowed to do.

"The sections of this law supposedly dealing with 'happy slapping' in
fact have a much broader scope," Reporters Without Borders said in a
statement. "Posting videos online showing violence against people
could now be banned, even if it were the police carrying out the

The measure has implications for online video sites like YouTube, or
France's Authorities could ask them to identify the
sources of images made available through their sites.

The American Dialect Society -

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