France's broadcasting regulator, the Conseil Superieur de l'Audiovisuel (CSA), announced this week that, henceforth, television and radio broadcasters can no longer mention the words "Facebook" or "Twitter" on air, unless it's within the context of an actual news story. The regulatory ruling stems from an obscure 1992 decree that forbids the promotion of commercial enterprises on news programs.
Some see the ban as Orwellian, while others believe the purpose of a newscast shouldn't be to get pageviews, but rather to provide citizens with an unbiased news source free of corporate interference. Matthew Fraser, an American-born blogger living in France, is in the former camp. He writes that France is "infamous for its oppressive bureaucratic culture of legalistic codes and decrees," and, noting that there was scarcely any reaction in the French media to the ruling, that, from long experience, the French "instinctively know how to integrate the inconveniences and irritations of state regulations into their behavior."
The CSA contends that any on-air allusion to a program's Facebook page or Twitter feed constitutes "clandestine advertising" for the social-network behemoths since they're commercial operations. As CSA spokesperson Christine Kelly (ironically, a former news anchor) explains:
"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. If we allow Facebook and Twitter to be cited on air, it's opening a Pandora's Box — other social networks will complain to us saying, 'Why not us?'"
It's hard to argue with Kelly's rationale, especially when it appears that the CSA is siding with the underdogs at the expense of such Goliaths. But since Facebook and Twitter are now effectively "public spaces" of communication with global reach that are indisputably a part of the daily fabric of our lives, isn't that rationale almost beside the point?
Fraser thinks there may be something more insidious at work. Citing the "deeply-rooted animosity in the French psyche towards Anglo-Saxon cultural domination," he thinks the censorship just might be a protectionist jab at our glorious American social networks. Whether or not there's any truth to this speculation, the whole thing does seem absurd from our vantage in the land of the free.