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Freedom of expression in France (or lack thereof)

by Lupin Tue Feb 27th, 2007 at 04:52:15 AM EST

In 2001, a small press French publisher L'esprit Frappeur put out a book entitled VOS PAPIERS! QUE FAIRE FACE A LA POLICE written by a lawyer member of the left-wing legal organization Syndicat de la Magistrateur on the subject of how to deal with various abuses of power by the French Police.

Immediately, the Mintre de l'Interieur of the then-Socialist Lionel Jospin government sued the Publisher, the writer and the cover artist (!) being accused of defaming and/or insulting the Police.  

The lawsuit was later actively continued by the present ministry of right-wing Nicolas Sarkozy -- the same man who recently expressed his support to the Philippe Val, the editor of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in the matter of the Mohammed caricatures, writing: Je préfère l'excès de caricatures à l'absence de caricature [I prefer an excessive caricature to an absence of caricatures].

In 2005, the Lower Court found in favor of the author, cartoonist and publisher, but the State decided to appeal and, last month, the Appellate Court disagreed and condemned the Publisher to pay a fine of 1000 euro, the writer 800 euro and the artist 500 euro.

The writer is appealing to the French supreme court, but the artist is thinking of throwing in the towel.

You can read more details about the case IN FRENCH HERE, read the artist's communiqué and view the allegedly offensive cover art.

French justice and French politicians -- from both sides -- ought to be ashamed.

From the diaries - afew


Display:
Thanks, Lupin. Here is the offending  caricature :

If ridicule would kill, we'd have less politicians.

by balbuz on Mon Feb 26th, 2007 at 08:46:08 AM EST
According to the artist, the writer is also being fined (more heavily) for having written that the French Police is using racial profiling -- perish the thought! (I'm being snarky).

This is simply shameful.

by Lupin on Mon Feb 26th, 2007 at 08:49:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But, but, if people didn't live in fear and awe of the police, what would the world come to?

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Feb 26th, 2007 at 08:51:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The Bush administration.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Mon Feb 26th, 2007 at 10:30:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]


You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Mon Feb 26th, 2007 at 04:56:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Syndicat de la Magistrature

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Feb 26th, 2007 at 08:52:41 AM EST
As Miguel was saying in the open thread, "Free speech is not an unqualified right in Europe."
All European countries have limitations of some kind, generally on racial hatred and defamation, at least.

In the case reported by Lupin, I understand that defamation was the basis for the lawsuit brought by the Ministry of the Interior.

Standards for defamation are quite easy to trigger in French law and newspaper, magazine and book publishers are regularly hauled in front of courts all around the country; this is an annoyance they have to deal with as a cost of doing business. Sad but true.

by Bernard (bernard) on Mon Feb 26th, 2007 at 03:16:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Recently the spokesman for the PSOE sued some a group of people that took part in an anti-zETAp demonstration for "threats" and "apology of terrorism" because they were chanting "Pepiño, we wish that ETA shoots you in the back of the head", or something like that. The case was thrown out.

Free speech in Europe is a constant source of entertainment.

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Feb 26th, 2007 at 03:26:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Hhm, I would have to say that's borderline incitement, though. Although I don't know what exactly the legislation says about incitement of violence. And, obviously, there's a difference between "I hope you'll get shot" and "Please someone shoot this guy."

"The basis of optimism is sheer terror" - Oscar Wilde
by NordicStorm (m<-at->sturmbaum.net) on Mon Feb 26th, 2007 at 03:30:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I did think the case had no merit, because it would be absurd on its face to accuse PP sympathisers to be apologists for ETA. But wishing Zapatero a firing squad "like your grandpa" has become de rigueur at PP anti-government demonstrations.

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Feb 26th, 2007 at 04:13:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I have read that one of the things keeping Turkey from getting EU membership is that it hasn't shown "respect for freedom of speech."  This would seem to contradict what you and Migeru have said regarding freedom of speech not being an "unqualified right in Europe."

Is this concern a ruse to disguise plain old racism, does the EU only dislike the degree to which Turkey curbs freedom of speech, or is the EU fact in support of protecting a person's right to say things which might offend their governments?

What are your thoughts on that?

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire

by p------- on Mon Feb 26th, 2007 at 03:38:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, that would depend on whether you consider there to be a very clear distinction between demanding minority rights for the Kurds and, say, claiming the superiority of the white race or denying the Holocaust (not trying to invoke Godwin's law, but it's typically legislation prohibiting the latter and of that nature we're talking about here).
It's more of a lack of respect for fundamental human rights at large rather than freedom of speech specifically, though.

"The basis of optimism is sheer terror" - Oscar Wilde
by NordicStorm (m<-at->sturmbaum.net) on Mon Feb 26th, 2007 at 03:56:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't understand the 1st part of your comment.  Or rather, this is how I understand it:  

that freedom of speech in the EU is seen as a top-down tool used to shape society, not as a way to protect the voice of the people.  It is desired if it protects an endangered minority, it is denied if it offends and endangered minority.  But how can we call it freedom of speech if we only extend it to those who agree with us?

Of course, it is not my experience that it is used heavy-handedly in Europe, and of course it all exists in degrees (as you noted in the crowded theater scenario.)  My concern is that the pure intent of yelling fire is to wreak havoc.  It is not an opinion, a political position, an expression of taste, a critique, an emotion, an artistic statement, an ideology.   So freedom of speech is perhaps used as a tool, but  not a tool for ensuring people are not offended, a tool for ensuring people are not hurt.   It would appear the government's intentions are good (trying to prevent the spread of anti-semitism, etc.)   But it seems to be 1)conflating offense with actual harm and 2)unable to recognize that freedom of speech is in itself a progressive value, not just a tool for promoting other progressive values.

I am thinking that during the Cold War a big deal was made about the lack of freedom of speech (and I just saw Lives of Others, so it's on my mind).  Yet to my mind, from where I sit, some of the attitudes toward freedom of speech expressed here seem to reflect a lack of concern about the topic.  

The second part, I suspect you are right, but freedom of speech was explicitly cited in the last round of EU talks on Turkey.

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire

by p------- on Mon Feb 26th, 2007 at 04:32:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
An exercise in comparative freedom of speech.

In Spain you can go to a demonstration and appear on national television chanting that the Prime Minister should be put before a firing squad like his grandfather during the Civil War, and nothing happens.

In the US, you can be overheard making a joke about killing the president and the next day you can have the Secret Service knowcking on your door.

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Feb 26th, 2007 at 04:37:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You can chant that in America, if you can find a tv station willing to put you on the air.  Hell, take out the bit on the Spanish Civil War, and replace PM with president as well as the part about being no tv, and you've got half my neighbors.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Tue Feb 27th, 2007 at 03:59:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
that freedom of speech in the EU is seen as a top-down tool used to shape society, not as a way to protect the voice of the people.  It is desired if it protects an endangered minority, it is denied if it offends and endangered minority.  But how can we call it freedom of speech if we only extend it to those who agree with us?

I wouldn't say a top-down tool, but the term "qualified freedom of speech" seems appropriate. Of course, one may consider that an oxymoron. I think you've hit upon the central concerns of having laws prohibiting hate speech at all. "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it," as some French dude once said.

"The basis of optimism is sheer terror" - Oscar Wilde

by NordicStorm (m<-at->sturmbaum.net) on Mon Feb 26th, 2007 at 05:26:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
the term "qualified freedom of speech" seems appropriate. Of course, one may consider that an oxymoron

But all freedoms are qualified unless you explicitly rank them.

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Feb 26th, 2007 at 05:32:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, and even then, they'd all be qualified except the one at the top of the list...
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Mon Feb 26th, 2007 at 05:35:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And that would be freedom of speech, right?

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Feb 26th, 2007 at 05:39:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]


"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Feb 26th, 2007 at 05:39:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Dude, I dunno, it's your list....
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Mon Feb 26th, 2007 at 05:40:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No, it's poemless'.

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Feb 26th, 2007 at 05:41:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What-ev-er....

I guess we can all have our own lists.  Top of mine:  Freedom of fries.

(Not really....)

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Mon Feb 26th, 2007 at 05:44:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You really can't have your own list of human rights. Human rights don't work that way. And freedom of speech makes rock bottom.
by richardk (richard kulisz gmail) on Tue Feb 27th, 2007 at 10:16:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Last I checked the Universal Declaration of Human Rights does not rank the rights. Unless you assume that the order of enumeration is significant, which might be a reasonable assumption but is not explicit.

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Feb 27th, 2007 at 10:18:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The UDHR is an imperfect enumeration of human rights. There's no need to presume it capable of producing their order. And yes, it's a partial order.
by richardk (richard kulisz gmail) on Tue Feb 27th, 2007 at 09:05:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Of course they're ranked. Who wouldn't rank them?

Speaking of, "freedom of speech" would be the lowest possible right. Below even the human right which up to now I considered the lowest possible right. The right to honesty from others.

On that ground alone, revisionist and racist speech can be rightfully banned.

by richardk (richard kulisz gmail) on Tue Feb 27th, 2007 at 10:15:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Do you always have to be able to decide that, among two rights, one must always trump the other? Is it possible to have only a partial order?

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Feb 27th, 2007 at 10:17:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes. Or like the Dixie Chicks you can criticize the President for warmongering and have all your records burned and your concerts boycotted- all with the blessing of the President. In practice, "freedom of speech" is only as real as the government and the courts that are protecting it. George Bush didn't say- "it's their right to critcize me"; he said "attack those bitches." A 500 Euro fine is a lot less offensive than having the government and the controlled press attacking you and trying to ruin your career (and who knows what else). Of course that's only "private action" which is OK.

Hey, Grandma Moses started late!
by LEP on Tue Feb 27th, 2007 at 02:29:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
George Bush didn't say- "it's their right to critcize me"

Actually, to be fair, he did say this in an interview with Tom Brokaw shortly after the invasion.

Freedom of speech doesn't protect you against attacks of the sort the Dixie Chicks were subjected to.  To claim otherwise is to fall into the Bill Donahue "Criticizing Our Senile, Mardi-Gras-looking Pope is an Attack on Our Freedom of Speech" defense -- a defense that is, frankly, moronic and easily smacked-down by any lawyer with an IQ above forty (which, I think, essentially includes all lawyers who did not attend either Liberty or Bob Jones University).

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Tue Feb 27th, 2007 at 03:51:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Of course you're right. I should have said George Bush didn't defend their right to criticize him and he in fact implied -"go get 'em". When the President says that it's almost governmental action, and it's very close to infringing on free speech.

Hey, Grandma Moses started late!
by LEP on Wed Feb 28th, 2007 at 03:24:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No, it's not.  Presidents don't forfeit their First Amendment rights when they take the oath.  (Imagine the sheer volume -- and necessity of that volume in the face off all the terrible shit he's done -- of comedy we'd have been deprived of.)  Now if Bush had (say) directed John Ashcroft to throw the Dixie Chicks in jail after the "ashamed to be a Texan" comment, it would, indeed, qualify as infringing on free speech.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Wed Feb 28th, 2007 at 01:38:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
For the sake of argument- what if Bush had gotten his cronies-all behind the scenes-to have the Dixie Chicks' record company refuse to renew their contract; and put pressure, all unoficially of course, on the large radio chains not to play their music. Using, or rather misusing, Government power without official Government action. Would that be infringement? Do you think infringement can only be expressed in criminal action? For something quite similar  take a look at the diaries at Daily Kos, of the former Justice Department lawyer-ethicist who became a whistle blower over some Justice Department outrage, and now has trouble to work in the private legal profession. I don't remember her name but I recall he first name as something like Jecelyn.

Hey, Grandma Moses started late!
by LEP on Wed Feb 28th, 2007 at 06:47:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As restrictive as the standards are in France or in Spain (or in other European countries), standards in Turkey are even more restrictive.

One can't deny there is thinly veiled racism behind a good part of the opposition to Turkey's EU membership, but on that particular point, Turkey is not on par (yet) with EU countries, although they've progressed a lot these past years, I understand.

Hope this helps.

by Bernard (bernard) on Mon Feb 26th, 2007 at 03:59:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think the Turkey's freedom of speech is a surrogate for the rights of the Kurdish minority and the influence of the military on politics which are too sensitive for diplomacy at this stage. If the EU made a stink about the Kurds Turkey would break the negotiations, which the EU probably doesn't really want anyway.

There have been diaries and comments on ET comparing the Orham Pamuk case with the David Irving case, for instance. We're all supposed to like Pamuk and he won the Nobel Price for Literature, and to dislike Irving and his revisionist history, but if Freedom of Speech were paramount we would not be able to make a distinction between the two cases.

There's the Mohammed Cartoons, the "Hitler = SS" comic that was banned in Spain, Ahmadinejad's cartoon competition, and now this French comic book about the police.

If Free speech is paramount, then you have to publish Ahmadinejad's cartoons and the French cartoon about the police.

So, no, free speech is not paramount, and yes, making that the key issue with Turkey is a red herring to avoid talking about Cyprus, the Armenians and the Kurds.

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Feb 26th, 2007 at 04:07:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Since freedom of the press was the paramount concern from all those rightwing magazines that reprinted the Mohammed cartoons I guess we will see this one reprinted as well?

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se
by A swedish kind of death on Mon Feb 26th, 2007 at 01:04:33 PM EST
Oh sure.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon Feb 26th, 2007 at 01:18:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This is all about European [People's Party] Values, don't you get it?

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Feb 26th, 2007 at 02:26:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This is appalling and not even consistent with what is generally practised in France. The cover illustration isn't all that extraordinary (a piggy nose? big deal), and the incriminated remark about racial profiling is almost trivial. I'm certain I've seen caricature of a similar nature (if not the same style), and read comments about profiling (and more - accusations of police murder, for example, back in the '70s and '80s when a surprising number of Arabs managed to get shot in the back when purportedly running headlong towards the police with evident violent intent) dozens of times.

The main blame, for me, lies with Daniel Vaillant, the Socialist Interior Minister who started the procedure. He spent a lot of energy trying to show someone on the left could be as "tough on crime" as Sarkozy. A stupid no-win pissing match.

[OT: Alex e-mailed me to say he unfortunately has to work on the 24th and won't be able to get down to Carcassonne, to his regret.]
 

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Feb 26th, 2007 at 03:38:28 PM EST
Vaillant was a huge disappointment (as was Allegre at Education); interestingly, though, the "police de proximity" supposedly so hated by the police, which was reversed when Sarkozy came in, now seems to be an idea gaining popularity again. But IIRC, that was started by Che, not Vaillant.
by desmoulins (gsb6@lycos.com) on Mon Feb 26th, 2007 at 06:58:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
We'll miss Alex. Thanks for the update.
by Lupin on Tue Feb 27th, 2007 at 09:52:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I suspect that the procedure was started at a time of police uinon elections (they are supposed to take place every few years), and the various unions put pressure on the government (in 2001) to get the case started. once started, therse things have an inertia all their own...

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon Feb 26th, 2007 at 04:17:51 PM EST
Thanks for the context. Always useful to understand the bigger picture.
by Lupin on Tue Feb 27th, 2007 at 09:53:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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