French PM says curbs on identifying police not targeting journalists

French PM Castex holds COVID-19 news conference

PARIS (Reuters) - A draft law that would make it a crime in certain circumstances to circulate an image of a police officer's face is not aimed at infringing journalists' right to report on public events, French Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Tuesday.

French rights activists and journalists have staged protests against the bill, which stipulates that anyone circulating a police officer's image with the intention of seeing harm done to the officer could be jailed for a year and fined 45,000 euros ($53,450) upon conviction.

Castex told parliament that the government is not targeting the freedom of the press or freedom of expression, but wants to protect police from the disseminaton of images and text aimed at harming police forces.

"The aim is not to prevent anyone from filming or broadcasting images that shed a light on a fact or a public event," said Castex, who will hold talks with journalists' unions this week.

Opponents say the bill - drafted by two MPs from President Emmanuel Macron's centrist party - would infringe journalists' freedom to report on public events, and make it harder to hold officers accountable if, for example, they use excessive violence while detaining a suspect.

The government has already added a line to the draft law to specify that it "does not infringe on the right to inform".

The law was to be voted in the National Assembly, where Macron's party has a majority, later on Tuesday. Some of the party's MPs have said they will vote against the bill.

In a nod to the opposition, Castex said the government itself would present the bill - once voted on - to the Constitutional Council to verify that it is in line with the constitution.

Opposition parties often appeal to the council if they contest the constitutionality of a law.

(Reporting by Elizabeth Pineau; Writing by Geert De Clercq; Editing by Mark Heinrich)