This week's German Rule of the Week is French. Matthew Fraser, proud 'Anglo-Saxon' he, splutters at the recent decision of the French broadcast regulator, the Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel, to ban the mention of Facebook or Twitter on French radio and television:
Anglo-Saxons who live in France, as I do, constantly struggle with the puzzling paradox in a society universally admired for its splendid “joie de vivre” — yet infamous for its oppressive bureaucratic culture of legalistic codes and decrees. The term “French bureaucracy” is shorthand for the worst imaginable Kafkaesque nightmare.
In France you cannot put up awnings in your own home without first obtaining permission from some government department, which will officiously stipulate what colours are allowed. One could easily draw up a list of French micro-regulations that, to the Anglo-Saxon disposition, seem utterly absurd, if not totally objectionable.
The latest one doubtless would rank high on that list. 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.
If this had happened in any self-respecting Anglo-Saxon country, Fraser states, it would be met with disbelief and mockery, and quickly reversed, but
in France, after the sages inside the CSA bureaucratic bunker handed down their ruling, there was scarcely any reaction at all in the French media. Some newspapers published fairly straightforward news articles on the decision, a couple provided more detailed analysis. Coverage on websites was somewhat more probing, and French bloggers questioned the decision. But the story came and went. No stupefaction, no outrage, no fulminating columns in the mainstream press. Business as usual.
French regulators, needless to say, were armed with a rationale for their meddling. The CSA maintained that any on-air mention of a programme’s Facebook page or Twitter feed constitutes ”clandestine advertising” for these social networks because they are commercial operations. In a word, French television and radio programmes cannot be seen to be promoting Facebook and Twitter as commercial brands.
Fraser then argues that anti-Anglo-Saxon bias was probably another driving factor for the decision. And then he provides a delightful historical interlude:
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. Nearly everyone in this country had a Minitel terminal in their home. The plastic terminals were easy to procure because the Minitel was a state-backed technology made available through the state-owned telephone company, France Telecom. I picked up my Minitel terminal (see image below), free of charge at my local Post Office.
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.
Now, I couldn't let this go without trying to locate one of those famously 'lascivious' ads. Here is one, found in this delightful blog post (f) about advertisements for defunct technologies:
My God, what I would give for just one transcription of an Ulla service chat from, say, 1983. If only there was a serious, respectable Histoire de la pornographie francaise that could help me satisfy my lust for knowledge.
To end this rambling post, I can only ask the question that is on every reader's mind: why has the nation which has given us, for instance, Emmanuelle Béart, given its national text-porn service a German woman's name and a Teutonic-looking avatar?