French journalists have been banned from ending their reports by saying "Follow us on Twitter" or "Have a look at our Facebook page". Instead, they now have to say, "Find us on social networks." News anchors are no longer allowed to say the words 'Facebook' and 'Twitter' on air, unless the terms are specifically part of a news story. The decision has been described as "absurd".
The ban on Facebook and Twitter references has been made by the Conseil supérieur de l'audiovisuel (Superior Audiovisual Council, CSA) which was established in 1989 and entrusted to guarantee and promote audiovisual communication freedom in France. The far-reaching responsibilities given to the CSA include monitoring respect of the principles of pluralism and honesty of information and setting rules on broadcasting content.
The CSA asserts the French media have a responsibility to "present an image reflecting the reality of today's France and to combat discriminations." The media, according to the CSA, represent a means of expression that must be as widely open as possible. The CSA keeps a watchful eye on this "absolute democratic necessity".
A large part of the CSA's work is to verify that both radio and television broadcasters are being responsible in their programming. Communication, it argues, is different from any other activity in that, "messages of a certain nature may cause serious harm to certain persons receiving them."
Somewhere in this rationale – and drawing on Article 9 of a French government decree issued on 27 March 27 1992 - the French bureaucracy has banned media references to Facebook and Twitter. The term "French bureaucracy" which includes the CSA has been described as "shorthand for the worst imaginable Kafkaesque nightmare".
Pushed to justify the banning, the CSA argued that any on-air mention Facebook or Twitter constitutes "clandestine advertising" for these social networks because they are commercial operations. In a word, French television and radio programs cannot be seen to be promoting Facebook and Twitter as commercial brands.
Moreover, any reference to Facebook or Twitter shows preference for those two social networks to the exclusion of others. The regulator further said: "Why give preference to Facebook, which is worth billions of dollars, when there are many other social networks that are struggling for recognition…this would be a distortion of competition."
To those on the internet, the reasons for the French ban point to something more political than enforcing advertising laws.
For Mathew Fraser, the answer is obvious. Facebook and Twitter are American social networks. In France, they are regarded, at least implicitly, as symbols of Anglo-Saxon global dominance - along with Apple, MTV, McDonald's, Hollywood, Disneyland, and other cultural juggernauts. There is a deeply-rooted animosity in the French psyche towards Anglo-Saxon cultural domination. Sometimes this cultural resentment finds expression in French regulations and laws and the case of Facebook and Twitter is just the latest manifestation.
Emil Protalinski argues this episode is political payback of the use of the term 'Freedom fries', the political euphemism for French fries that started being used by some people in the U.S. after France expressed strong opposition in the United Nations to the U.S. decision to launch the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Some decided to boycott French goods and businesses and even remove the country's name from products. Does this explain the Facebook, Twitter ban?
French blogger Benoit Raphael says the "real" reason behind the decision to ban the companies from being mentioned in broadcasts is because they are American. He says: "I admit to hoping that the truth isn't something as depressingly mundane as cultural jealousy, but if that is the case, then it's no more ridiculous than forcing news anchors to have to tell viewers to "find us on social networking websites" instead of just directing them to where everyone is already going."
As The New Yorker surmises in response to the French ban: "It's always tempting to find something deviously anti-American in the actions of the French, but this case seems more like a misapplication of a judicious restriction; even if that restriction strikes most readers on this side of the Atlantic as an unnecessary restriction on free discourse."
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