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Bloggers mock France over Facebook airwaves ‘ban’

Text by Joseph BAMAT

Latest update : 2011-06-14

France has ruled that broadcasters cannot mention Facebook or Twitter on the air, citing a 1992 decree targeting subliminal advertising. Some bloggers argue that the move is indicative of the backwardness of French officials.

Many bloggers in France have joined their counterparts across the Atlantic in decrying and ridiculing the decision by the country’s audiovisual authority to ban unnecessary mentioning of the words “Facebook” and “Twitter” on French airwaves.

Late last month the Superior Audiovisual Council (CSA) said that television and radio presenters must refrain from mentioning services like Facebook or Twitter by name, unless they are specifically part of the news story.

Evoking a law that is meant to examine subliminal advertising, the CSA said broadcasters should use the generic term "social media" instead of referencing Facebook or Twitter.

For example, a news presenter should say: “For more on this story, follow FRANCE 24 on the social medias”

The San Francisco-based website TechCrunch described the decision as an “extremely absurd move”, while Newser writer John Johnson racked it up as the “weird rule of the week”.

In a nod to Twitter and its ever-present hash tags, TechCrunch predicted: “Judging by the ongoing popularity of these social networks the CSA won’t be #winning for very much longer.”

British-Canadian journalist Mathew Fraser wrote that the ban reflected France’s obsession with “legalistic codes and decrees” and was another window on the “Kafkaesque nightmare” that is French bureaucracy.

Bloggers in France were no kinder. On Monday, French blog La Social Newsroom railed against the CSA for “giving Americans yet another reason to laugh at France”.

Benoit Raphael, the blog's author, wrote that the CSA failed to understand that Twitter and Facebook are, above else, public spaces where millions of French people freely share information.

Many news websites, like Rue89 and Liberation.fr, lamented what they consider the CSA’s outmoded views of contemporary news culture, and the potential for interaction that Facebook and Twitter can afford traditional broadcasters and viewers.

“The administrative and political elites in France are cut off from the changing world,” wrote contributor Pierre Haski in Rue89.

Traditional media in France has remained largely silent over the affair or reported the event without weighing in on the debate.

Clandestine advertising

Created in 1989, the CSA's mandate is to ensure fairness on French audiovisual communication, such as TV time granted to political candidates, and with the protection of children from some types of programming.

Defending her group’s decision, CSA spokeswoman, Christine Kelly, told reporters:

"Facebook and Twitter are commercial brands like Coca-Cola or L'Oreal or any other. There are many social networking sites on many topics - cooking, animals - why should we mention one and not others?"

The CSA said that its decision is based on a law that dates back to 1992. Article 9 of the decree states that mentioning by word or image “goods, services, names or brands” of a commercial entity on the airwaves constitutes “clandestine advertising”.

Checking Anglo-Saxon dominance?

Bloggers have felt compelled to draw comparisons to France’s Toubon Laws - France’s official efforts to regulate the adoption of commonplace English words that have seeped into everyday use among the French.

In March 2010 the French government laboured to find acceptable replacements for the words "chat", "newsletter", "buzz", “talk” and “tuning”. The replacement words were found, but the contrived “tchatche” - slang used to describe a smooth talker - has not caught on.

Mathew Fraser says the CSA’s decision may be linked to an anti-English language reflex. “Facebook and Twitter are, of course, American social networks. In France, they are regarded, at least implicitly, as symbols of Anglo-Saxon global dominance.”

But the CSA has categorically denied that the new Facebook and Twitter ban is fuelled by Toubon-related motivations.

“The CSA is in charge of applying the law” added spokeswoman Ms Kelly.

Date created : 2011-06-07

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