Censorship in France

Censorship in France

In standard conditions, France does not have censorship laws, being a liberal democracy respectful of freedom of press. However, there was a strong governemental control over radio and television in the 1950-70s. Today, the CSA is only charged of surveillance of the respect of French law in the media, in particular concerning the 1990 Gayssot Act which prohibits racist or/and religious hate speech (under which negationism, in particular but not only Holocaust denial falls under), and time period allocated to each political party during pre-electoral periods. Furthermore, other laws prohibit homophobic hate speech, and a 1970 law prohibits the advocacy of illegal drugs.

Each of these laws have been criticized by some groups, either from the left (especially concerning the 1970 law on drugs) or from the far right (in particular concerning the 1990 Gayssot Act or the laws prohibiting homophobic attacks). Others express the need for minorities to be protected from hate speech which may lead, according to them, to heinous acts and hate crimes, while still others claim that one can not tolerate free speech concerning drugs as it is a matter of public health and moral order. However, the 2005 vote of the law on colonialism voted by the UMP conservative parliamentary majority has lifted a debate, especially among historians, concerning the legitimacy and relevancy of such "memory laws." Although a fair amount of historians is opposed to such laws, few advocate their repeal insofar as they estimate that once they have been voted, repealing them would be a greater evil.

Finally, critics, in particular, but not only, from the left-wing, have criticized economic censorship, in particular through concentration of media ownership (Bouygues' influence, for instance, on TF1) , or the fact that Dassault or Lagardère, both military firms, control several newspapers in France, such as "Le Figaro" (owned by Dassault).

Over all, freedom of press is guaranteed by the French Constitution, several effective cases of censorship, against newspapers ("Le Canard enchaîné", "Charlie Hebdo" and "Hara-Kiri" newspapers, etc.), films, or radio-shows, have been registered in the history of the Fifth Republic, founded in 1958. Most recently, several events ordered by Nicolas Sarkozy, then-Interior Minister and current President of the Republic, have been criticized as forms of censorship (i.e. the firing of the director of "Paris Match" — controlled by Hachette Filipacchi Médias, the world's largest magazine publisher, itself owned by Lagardère — because he had published photos of Cécilia Sarkozy with another man in New York).

History of freedom of press and censorship in France

The loi sur la liberté de la presse of 29 July 1881 was passed under the French Third Republic in 1881 by the then-dominant Opportunist Republicans who sought to liberalise the press and promote free public discussion. The new law swept away a swathe of earlier statutes, stating at the outset the principle that "Printing and publication are free".

Following Auguste Vaillant's assassination attempt, the first anti-terrorist laws was voted in 1893, which were quickly denounced as "lois scélérates". These laws severely restricted freedom of expression. The first one condemned apology of any felony or crime as a felony itself, permitting wide-spread censorship of the press. The second one allowed to condemn any person directly or indirectly involved in a "propaganda of the deed" act, even if no killing was effectively carried on. The last one condemned any person or newspaper using anarchist propaganda (and, by extension, socialist libertarians present or former members of the International Workingmen's Association (IWA):

"1. Either by provocation or by apology... [anyone who has] encouraged one or several persons in committing either a stealing, or the crimes of murder, looting or arson...; 2. Or has addressed a provocation to military from the Army or the Navy, in the aim of diverting them from their military duties and the obedience due to their chiefs... will be deferred before courts and punished by a prison sentence of three months to two years. [ fr icon "1. Soit par provocation, soit par apologie [...] incité une ou plusieurs personnes à commettre soit un vol, soit les crimes de meurtre, de pillage, d’incendie [...] ; 2. Ou adressé une provocation à des militaires des armées de terre et de mer, dans le but de les détourner de leurs devoirs militaires et de l’obéissance qu’ils doivent à leurs chefs [...] serait déféré aux tribunaux de police correctionnelle et puni d’un emprisonnement de trois mois à deux ans." ]

During World War I, postal censorship was in force, as the French state thought it necessary to control the public's morale and thus engaged in a sort of psychological warfare. Censorship was current during the war, leading to the 1915 creation of "Le Canard enchaîné" weekly, which used satires and other games of words to pass through "Anastasia's scissors", as was popularly called the censors (such words games still exist in "Le Canard", for leisure purposes, such as the section named "Sur l'album de la Ccomtesse" ).

Censorship laws were revoked with the founding of the Fifth Republic in 1958, although cases of censorship still occurred (in particular concerning films or satirical newspapers). The proclamation of the state of emergency, used during the Algerian War (1954-62) and also in 2005, during the civil unrest, allows the state to legally censor news articles and other media productions (used during the Algerian War, this censorship disposition was not used in 2005).

Henri Alleg's book La Question denouncing torture by the French Army during the Algerian war was censored, as well as other similar books and films, such as "The Battle of Algiers".

Recently, UMP deputy Nadine Morano interpellated Interior Minister (UMP) Nicolas Sarkozy to censor hip-hop bands, while 200 UMP deputies, led by François Grosdidier, tried without success to censor hip-hop bands. The whole thing started with a song called La France by french hip-hop band Sniper.

In 1987 a law repressing "provocation au suicide" (sic) was passed, after a best-selling book called "Suicide, mode d'emploi" was published in 1982. This book, written by two anarchists (Claude Guillon and Yves Le Bonniec), contained a historic and theoretical account of suicide, as well as a critical overview of ways to commit suicide. The rerelease of the book in 1989 was used as a pretext to forbid it in the name of this law, in spite of the principle of retroactivity of law. The book is thus censored de facto, unavailable in all libraries and bookshops in France. It has never been translated into English.


The press is largely unrestricted by law in France, although indirect pressures are sometimes applied to prevent publication of materials against the interests of the government or influential industries. Involvement of the government and major industrial groups, sometimes with political ties, with certain press organizations sometimes raises questions as to the ability of the press to remain truly independent and unrestricted. Examples include:
* the Agence France-Presse (AFP), an internationally active news agency used by the media world-wide, is a public corporation nominally independent from the government, but derives a lot of its revenue from sales to government;
* Radio France International (RFI) is funded by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and is sometimes criticized for its cover of former French colonies
* Serge Dassault, businessman involved in warplanes, and thus in government procurement contracts, (see Dassault Aviation) and senator from the ruling UMP party, owns newspapers including "Le Figaro"; he famously indicated that he intended his papers to reflect only "healthy ideas" ("idées saines") and that left-wing ideas were unhealthy; [France Inter, December 10 2004, 8h20]
* the Bouygues group, a major operator of public works and thus of government procurement contracts, owns the TF1 TV channel, which has the largest audience.

In addition, most of the press depends on advertisement to generate revenue; the question of independence from advertisers is a constant and contentious one, with repeat assertions that undesirable investigations were descheduled from TV broadcasts.

However, there are outstanding examples of freedom and independence of the press, including the "Le Canard enchaîné," a newspaper that is known for its scoops and its brazen publication thereof, even against the will of the government. The "Canard" does not accept advertisement in order to remain truly independent.


All films intended for theatrical release have to be granted a "visa" by the Ministry of Culture, upon the recommendation of Commission for film classification ("Commission de classification cinématographique"), which can give a film one of four ratings:

* Tous publics (universal): suitable for all audiences
* Interdit aux moins de 12 ans (-12): Forbidden for under 12s
* Interdit aux moins de 16 ans (-16): Forbidden for under 16s
* Interdit aux moins de 18 ans (-18): Forbidden for under 18s

Cinemas are bound by law to prevent underaged audiences from viewing films and may be fined if they fail to do so.

The Commission cannot make cuts to a film, but it can ban it, although this latter power is rarely used. In practice, this means that most films in France are categorized rather than censored.

Although there are no written guidelines as to what sort of content should receive which rating and ratings are given on a case by case basis, the commissioners typically cite violent, sexual and drug related content (especially if it is deemed to be graphic or gratuitous) as reasons for higher ratings. By contrast little attention is paid to strong language. However sexual content is much less likely to produce a high rating than in many other countries, including the United States.

Films that have received comparatively low ratings in France include:

* "American Beauty," -12
* "A Ma Soeur!," -12
* "," U (Rated R in US)
* "Eyes Wide Shut," U (Rated NC-17 in US)
* "Kids," -12
* "Taxi Driver," -16, reclassified to -12

List of censored books

*Lamennais, "Le Pays et le gouvernement" (1840, led to Lammemais' imprisonment for a year)
*Henri Alleg, "La Question" (Minuit, 1958 - on the use of torture during the Algerian War)
*Frantz Fanon's "The Wretched of the Earth" ( [1961), with a preface from Jean-Paul Sartre (published by François Maspero)
*Mongo Beti's "Cruel hand on Cameroon, autopsy of a decolonization" (Maspero, 1972) censored by the Ministry of the Interior Raymond Marcellin on the request, brought forward by Jacques Foccart, of the Cameroon government, represented in Paris by the ambassador Ferdinand Oyono.
*Bagatelles pour un massacre, by Louis-Ferdinand Céline, for antisemitism, just like by the same author :
*L'Ecole des cadavres
*Les Beaux draps
*Léon Degrelle's Tintin mon copain

List of censored songs

*Boris Vian, " [http://www.prato.linux.it/~lmasetti/canzonicontrolaguerra/canzone.php?id=1 The Deserter] " (1954)
*JoeyStarr, "Sarkozy" (2006)

List of censored films

* "La Garçonne," (1923)
* "Zéro de conduite," (1933)
* Jean-Luc Godard, "Le Petit Soldat" (1960)
* "Du - Zwischenzeichen der Sexualität," (1968)
* Gillo Pontecorvo, "The Battle of Algiers," (1965)
* "L'Essayeuse," (1976)
* "Romance (1999 film)"


The "Conseil Supérieur de l'Audiovisuel" (CSA) is charged to regulate televisions, both public and private. It surveys the respect of national legislation, as well as the respect of time allocated to each political party in the media during electoral periods.

Freedom of information

Freedom of information and the accountability of public servants is a constitutional right, according to the "Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen".

The implementing freedom of information legislation is the "Loi n°78-753 du 17 juillet 1978 portant diverses mesures d'amélioration des relations entre l'administration et le public et diverses dispositions d'ordre administratif, social et fiscal" (Act No. 78-753 of 17 July 1978. On various measures for improved relations between the Civil Service and the public and on various arrangements of administrative, social and fiscal nature). It sets as a general rule that citizens can demand a copy of any administrative document (in paper, digitized or other form). The [http://www.cada.fr commission on access to administrative documents] ("Commission d’Accès aux Documents Administratifs", CADA), an independent administrative authority, may help in the process. Regulations specify maximal fees of reproduction. Only final versions, not work documents, may be requested. There exist a number of exemptions:
* Documents established in the process of justice.
* Documents of cases before the national ombudsman.
* Documents carrying an appreciation or judgment over a named or easily identifiable person, or containing private information of that person (such as medical records), when the person requesting the document is not the person described in the document or, in some cases, from his or her family; such documents may often still be obtained after the names of the persons involved are erased;
* Documents for which that are already available to the public (for instance, publishing in the "Journal Officiel").
* Documents with secrets regarding national defense or national foreign policy (though they may often be communicated after erasure of certain passages).
* Internal deliberations of the national executive.
* Documents from fiscal, customs, criminal enquiries.

Certain exempted documents may still be available according to other statutes. For instance, some tax-related information about any taxpayer are available to any other taxpayer from the same tax district.

CADA does not have the power to order administrations to surrender documents, though it may strongly incite them to do so. However, citizens can challenge the refusal of the administration before the administrative courts (i.e. courts hearing recourses against the executive). Unfortunately, these courts are overbooked, and citizens must often wait several years to have their rights examined in a fair trial. France has been declared guilty of excessive delays (more than 10 years) many times by the European Court of Human Rights.

See also

*Human rights in France
*Reporters Without Borders


* [http://www.oflc.gov.au/resource.html?resource=253&filename=253.pdf Report by the chairman of the French Commission of film classification]
* [http://www.imdb.com/List?certificates=France:(banned) Internet Movie Database] - films banned in France
*Claude Guillon, Le droit à la mort. Suicide, mode d'emploi: ses lecteurs, ses juges, Paris, Hors Texte, 2004 (ISBN:2-915286-34-5)

External links

* [http://www.cnc.fr/ CNC] Centre National de la Cinématographie, parent organisation of the Commission for film classification
* [http://www.csa.fr/ CSA] Conseil supérieur de l'audiovisuel
* [http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/197/ IFEX] International Freedom of Expression Exchange
* [http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/filtering/google/results1.html Specific Sites Excluded from Google.fr and or Google.de.]
* [http://doc-iep.univ-lyon2.fr/Ressources/Documents/Etudiants/Memoires/MFE2001/trelisl/these.html La Censure cinématographique en France, thesis]

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