Matthew Fraser, You Now Can’t Say “Facebook” Or “Twitter” On French TV
This week we learned that France’s broadcasting regulator had just issued another decree: henceforth, hosts of television and radio programmes must refrain from uttering the words “Facebook” and “Twitter” on the air.
Thus, a French news anchor such as David Pujadas (in photo at right) is not allowed to say to viewers: “For more information on this breaking story, follow us on Twitter.” Nor is any television or radio presenter allowed to mention a programme or network Facebook page. If Facebook or Twitter make the news, they can be mentioned on a strictly “information” basis. But no urging the audience to connect via Facebook or Twitter to learn more, ask questions, give their opinions, and so on.
No, this is not a joke. It’s a real regulatory decree, citing article 9 of a French government decree issued on March 27 1992.
Astonishing. The French regulators make the case that mentioning these networks is an implicit support for the companies involved. Hmmm. Isn’t asking people to phone in a support for telephone companies?
But the real issue might be the fact that Twitter and Facebook are American companies:
Facebook and Twitter are, of course, 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. That there is a deeply-rooted animosity in the French psyche towards Anglo-Saxon cultural domination cannot be disputed; indeed, it has been documented and analysed for decades. Sometimes this cultural resentment finds expression in French regulations and laws, frequently described, and often denounced, by foreigners as protectionism.
A relevant historical comparison makes my point. Before the explosion of the Internet in the 1990s, the French were infatuated with their leading-edge electronic information system called Minitel. During the 1980s, when I first moved to France, the Minitel was the object of tremendous national pride.
In those days, you couldn’t watch a television programme in France without the host urging you to “tapez 3615” on your Minitel to connect and get more information or express your opinion. The numbers “3615”, for reasons I never understood, were the standard code to access the Minitel system. The French government made billions on the Minitel because time spent logged on was tariffed by state-owned France Telecom. The Minitel’s dirty secret was that text-based porn services like “Ulla” — famous for its lascivious poster adverts on the back of Parisian buses — were by far the most profitable. Through “Minitel Rose”, the French government was in the porn business.
In those days, French television networks (owned by the state at the time) were in effect commercial agents for Minitel usage. No regulatory ruling, to my memory, banned all mention of Minitel on French airwaves due to concerns about “clandestine advertising”. Perhaps the reason for this regulatory indulgence was a fact that regulators could not easily ignore: the commercial profit centre for Minitel revenues was the French state.
The Minitel, blown away by the Web in the 1990s, quickly vanished into techno-oblivion. Today a plastic Minitel terminal is regarded as a vaguely comical technological antique. It would be a gross overstatement to argue that the French have never forgiven the Web for destroying the Minitel. But it’s possible to wonder whether French resistance to the Internet revolution, even on television, might possibly find its origins, subconsciously, in this lingering resentment.
It’s all envy, then, Minitel envy.
One footnote: In 1986, French university students coordinated a national strike using Minitel, which is perhaps the first example of technorevolutionary activities, foreshadowing what we have seen in recent years with Twitter and Facebook.
- France bans Facebook and Twitter from TV, radio (digitallife.today.com)
- French regulators ban the words Facebook and Twitter from TV and radio (textually.org)
- France bans Facebook and Twitter (the words) (news.cnet.com)