French watchdog asks: Did TV stations endanger hostages?

January 16, 2015 10:07 am | Updated December 04, 2021 11:32 pm IST - Paris

France’s broadcasting watchdog met with television and radio executives to discuss “failures” in the coverage of last week’s terror attacks after some relatives of hostages accused certain French TV stations of endangering the captives in a bid to produce high ratings.

The Higher Broadcasting Council, a body known as the French “broadcasting police”, regulates television and radio stations and its nine government-appointed members have the power to sanction or fine them for wrongdoing.

After Thursday’s closed hearing, it will release a ruling in early February which could contain new rules for broadcasters.

Stations contacted after the hearing said they would have no immediate comment.

The accusations relate to coverage of France’s most dramatic terror attacks in decades, which had millions glued to their television sets. Twenty people were killed, including the three attackers, in three days of terror that ended Friday with twin raids on a printing plant and a kosher supermarket in the Paris area.

At the printing plant north of Paris, Lilian Lepere was hiding under a sink, apparently unbeknownst to the gunmen.

Mr. Lepere’s sister said on France 2 television that the family had stopped calling him so as not to compromise his hiding place an admission that could have alerted the gunmen to her brother’s presence.

Mr. Lepere was released unharmed. But the Higher Broadcasting Council that same day issued a warning to news media to “act with the greatest discernment”.

“It’s an ethical problem,” said French commentator and political scientist Dominique Moisi. “If you want to be ahead of the police because that’s the way to attract your public, if you deal with those things like a kind of live show, it can because dangerous and prejudicial. Because by the end of the day, you forget that there are real lives at stake.”

In the other standoff, the wife of one hostage accused BFM-TV of putting her husband and others at risk by revealing their hiding place in the freezer of a kosher grocery store. .

“You nearly made a huge, huge mistake, BFM,” the woman, whom the station did not name, said on the air the next day. “The terrorist was watching BFM. ... Fortunately he did not see that, otherwise my husband and the five others would be dead.”

BFM said the woman got her facts wrong, but admitted revealing the secret hideout of a woman “hidden in the cold room” live on air while the gunman was inside and reportedly watching BFM, but BFM deputy editor Alexis Delahousse defended the decision.

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