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Censorship France Hungary Press freedom Commentary

France’s unique laws strangle press freedom and target conservatives

The left in France has openly used laws in the country to censor conservatives in the press and threaten journalists with fines and jail time, writes Oliver Bault

editor: REMIX NEWS
author: Olivier Bault
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Although the left is protesting France’s controversial new Global Security bill, they have had little issue supporting campaigns and laws to stifle free speech in France and harm conservative news platforms in the past.
In fact, the Global Security bill, which is making its way through the French National Assembly, has sparked violent protests with far-left activists conducting vicious attacks on police officers last Saturday. Sixty-two police officers were left injured, and 81 protesters were arrested at so-called “freedom marches” across France. On Monday, the French government announced it would rewrite the bill’s most controversial article, which would forbid the publication of pictures or footage where police officers on duty can be identified when such a publication is ill-intentioned.
Part of the opposition, in particular from the left and the far-left, sees this as an attack against the freedom to report about police brutality. On the right side of the political spectrum, National Rally leader Marine Le Pen was much less critical of the bill but pointed out that existing laws already offer police officers sufficient protection, at least in theory, of their privacy and personal safety. However, those laws are never enforced, she said , asking whether courts would duly enforce the added protection brought about by the new Global Security Law.
The left’s fresh concerns about freedom of the press raise eyebrows among French conservatives. In fact, the same who protest so loudly about a bill meant to protect police officers applauded when, bowing to the far-left Sleeping Giants pressure group, companies such as the French sports retailer Décathlon and Ferrero, the Italian manufacturer of Nutella and other chocolate and confectionery products, decided to withdraw all their adverts from the CNews TV channel as long as CNews hosted right-wing, conservatives voices, such as that of renowned author and commentator Éric Zemmour. Éric Zemmour, perhaps the most popular conservative thinker in France, has been fined in the past for speaking his mind on immigration Décathlon had already withdrawn its adverts from other right-wing media outlets such as the Valeurs Actuelles weekly magazine and conservative websites like Boulevard Voltaire. Unfortunately for the press’s freedom and media pluralism in France, Décathlon and Ferrero are not isolated cases. A year ago, Valeurs Actuelles published a very long list of companies which had already answered positively in France to the far-left’s demand not to publish adverts through conservative, right-wing media outlets, thus depriving those outlets of an essential source of income.
And this is not the only problem France has with freedom of the press in the country. Starting with the Pleven law enacted in 1972, France has put in place a unique set of laws allowing a myriad of state-funded, left-wing NGOs to go to court against anyone who says something they consider racist, revisionist, homophobic, or label “hate speech” for some other reason. Over the years, such laws have developed an unrivaled — at least in Europe — level of self-censorship among journalists. Those who do not abide by the expected standard of political correctness know they may have to face costly and time-consuming processes and sometimes endure heavy fines or even jail.
Last September, Éric Zemmour was fined €10,000 by a French court for his speech at a “Convention of the Right” a year earlier. Zemmour’s speech was heavily criticized in the mainstream media, making the LCI news channel apologize for its live broadcasting. In that speech, Zemmour stressed the threat posed by the temporary alliance of liberal totalitarianism and Islamic totalitarianism, which he compared to the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact between Nazi Germany and communist Russia. The target of both brands of totalitarianism, he emphasized, is primarily the White, heterosexual, Catholic French man, and the French state has become a tool in the hands of those who want to destroy the nation and replace the French with a different people, which referred to as an alien civilization. The French court considered that making such distinction between French people of European origin and French Muslims is paramount to inciting religious hatred.
The Pleven law of 1972 against “racist” speech (which in practice has subsequently been used to cover any criticism of immigration or Islam) was only the first in a series of such laws. Since then, new laws have provided for harsher punishment and extended forbidden speech to those who question the genocide committed against the Jews by Nazi Germany, the Turkish genocide against Armenians, anyone who denies the European slave trade was a crime against humanity, and any kind of “discriminating” speech towards races, religious groups or LGBT communities, and so on.
For all those speech crimes committed in public, NGOs can take anyone, including politicians and journalists, to court. This feature of the law distinguishes France from other countries where usually only public prosecutors are able to perform such an action. Thus, even when they know they are not inciting hatred and not breaking the law, French journalists, and also politicians, have to be very careful if they do not want to spend years defending their case in courts.
In spite of all this, in the “Media Pluralism” chapter of its first Rule of Law Report presented this year (which is supposed to serve as a basis for the new rule-of-law mechanism ), the European Commission chose not to criticize France but rather Poland and Hungary where media pluralism and freedom of expression of journalists are far greater than France . The European Commission only mentions France — very briefly — regarding “some cases of physical threats and attacks” against journalists but makes no mention that conservative outlets in the country have been essentially muzzled for years.
France is also unique in other ways, as evidenced by the fact that some journalists have to live under close police protection. It is the case, for example, of former Charlie Hebdo journalist Zineb El Rhazoui who has been living for years under constant police protection because of the numerous death threats she has received due to her criticisms of Islam.
Abortion is just another topic that requires journalists to watch what they say in France. Last October, while discussing the possible extension of the legal deadline to abort on demand from the 12th week of pregnancy to the 14th week of pregnancy, pro-life activist Virginie Mercier showed on CNews a picture of a baby at 14 weeks and gave a factual description of what an abortion procedure looks like at that stage. Her opponent, a pro-abortion lawyer, answered her: “Let me remind you that there is [in French law] an offense of obstruction [to abortion]. What you have just said and the pictures you have shown could clearly fall under this offense”.
Just as in France, in Hungary abortion on-demand is legal up to the 12th week of pregnancy. Last Summer, I asked Hungarian pro-life activist Lidia Meuwissen whether she was able to present her views in the Hungarian media, and she told me, referring specifically to conservative media outlets among all others: “Yes, I talked several times on television and they are open to us participating in discussions… We do not have much visibility, but our situation is probably better than that of pro-life activists in Western Europe”.