Reaction: As Web Challenges French Leaders, They Push Back

The article As Web Challenges French Leaders, They Push Back, written by Scott Sayare, addresses a key issue regarding freedom of speech in one of the founding countries of democracy, France.

The article begins with an anecdote of Ms. Broueilh, a 50 year old housewife who left a response on a video of French politician Nadine Morano claiming she attended a political conference in 2007.  The comment left by Broueilh read, “Oh the liar.”  According to the Sayare, Ms. Broueilh’s Internet address was eventually subpoenaed by Morano in order to obtain her identity.  A lawsuit was then brought against Broueilh for “public insult toward a member of the ministry.”  The maximum fine for such an offense, $18,000.

There has been a surge of viral videos of French politicians caught saying things they might later regret.  French President Nicolas Sarkozy was filmed saying to a French citizen “get out of here – idiot,” after refusing to shake the President’s hand. In another incident, President Sarkozy and interior minister, Éric Besson, can be seen laughing and making a racist joke towards a member of their audience.

The lawsuit against Ms. Broueilh is not the only case brought against French citizens by their own government.  Cases are so common that Sarkozy receives a nightly report outlining the online conversation about the French government.  French Internet sites are monitored by the government via in-house surveillance teams.

The practice of monitoring the Internet by the French government stands against everything democracy is supposed to represent.  Journalism is a profession founded upon the principle of checks and balances for those in power.  How are journalists, and citizens alike, supposed to carry out this principle if they know they may be punished for their actions?  As journalists, it is our duty to stand by this principle.  But what about average citizens like Ms. Broueilh, who might be scared to express their opinions for fear of consequence?

But who is more scared, citizens, or the government elected to represent them?

“We now have politicians who are scared,” said Frédéric Dabi, a French commentator for the polling agency Ifop.

In a democratic society, no one should be scared to speak freely and express their opinion, whether it be government officials, media outlets, or citizens.  After all, if we don’t have our voice, then what do we have?

Vive la liberté.

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