Wednesday, April 26, 2006

If you don't get it, regulate it! Just in case...

20060304_iphoto_lorenzattractor_1This seems to be the axiom upon which every act of government is based in countries whose political elites don’t have a clue about the real implications of the Internet. In many European countries today, governments swim in self-congratulatory communications, boasting about their “achievements” in e-government. At the same time citizens empowered by the web are taking by storm all areas of public life. The latest example of disconnect between the people and governing elites seems to come from France (again), much to the despair of yours truly.

The French Minister of Culture, not satisfied with the
fiasco of the legislation on authors’ rights - mark my words, it will turn out to be YANAL = yet-another-not-applicable-law -, is now about to take an
initiative to "regulate" citizen-driven journalism on the web. Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres embarks on a crusade to protect citizens from the perils of partisan coverage of news by amateur journalists (i.e. journalists who have not been coopted and do not have the blessing of the establishment). He hinted at the fact that he wants blog articles to involve at least one professional journalist who has a valid license as a member of the press. I don't know about you, but I am personally sick and tired of those guys who create regulations for stuff they don't understand and fear.

You see, Renaud
Donnedieu de Vabres is worried: according to him, blogs are not reliable sources of
information and they are biased and lead to misinformation of citizens… blah,
blah, blah…. Whereas, of course, the conservative mass media TF1 or Public
French TV or partisan newspapers or private radio channels supporting interest groups or indeed SkyTV and
Fox News are officially and automatically labeled as reliable. Perhaps because of the government’s
certainty about their almost complete allegiance to the "official truth".

The fact is that there is a managed coexistence and strong
codependency between the political world and established media
. This results in the emergence of a new form of political regime that I call a mediacracy in which power is no longer in the hands of the people but rather in that of a political elite involved in an incestuous relationship with special-interest sponsored media. Actually, that was true until recently, until the web empowered citizens to share opinions and collectively build intelligence on often complex subjects like the proposed European Constitution last year. In that instance the political-media power did not prevail.

This incestuous
relationship goes far beyond public life and right into the privacy of
households of French politicians many of whom are in relationship with stars of
established media, themselves employed by established capitalists who finance
and support said politicians. And perhaps they do so because politicians are
their very best insurance policy against changes and challenges brought about by the adoption of new applications of infotech like blogs, vlogs, podcasts, WiFi networks and mobile devices. Perhaps established players do not really want power to the people.
Perhaps that is why they favor party-driven processes of pre-selection of
candidates to be presented to the people for crucial elections like the French
presidential election. Perhaps that is why they don’t like the idea of citizens
going around and reporting what they see as they understand it: it does drive
information out of control.

Now the good question is this: why in the world should we
consider the established media with their covert submission to or concealed
manipulation of politicians to be more trustworthy than bloggers and freelance
citizens-journalists who openly state that the content they produce is partisan
and do not try to position themselves as holders of the one and unique truth?

Another interesting question is the impact of such attempts to “regulate” the
free expression of individual opinions on one of the foundations of democracy:
free speech with the understanding that freedom works best when there is also
respect for other opinions so long as they don’t invite discrimination or
hatred or ethnic and religious violence.

It seems that regulation of everything they do not
understand is the illness of outdated elites in government today. And France is a telltale example unfortunately: from a
totally idiotic and non-applicable legislation about ostentatious signs of
religious belief, to the legislation about authors’ rights, to protests against flexible
work contracts, to this new “initiative”, France is crumbling under the weight
of over-regulation and centralization. The imbalance in favor of the Jacobins
centralizers in their two-century old contest with the Girondins who favored
decentralized processes, is now the worst threat to


future in a global connected world.


  1. "Aren't people absurd! They never use the freedoms they do have, but demand those they don't have; they have freedom of thought, they demand freedom of speech." Søren Kierkegaard
    In Italy the media Tycoon Silvio Berlusconi used censorship by stopping the satirical Raiot series, from Sabina Guzzanti on RAI television, by arguing that they were vulgar and full of disrespect to the government. (He claimed to sue the RAI for 21.000.000 Euro if the show would go on). The RAI stopped the show. Sabina Guzzanti went to court to proceed with the show and won the case. However the government and the RAI refused to follow the court order and the show never went on air again.

  2. For people like me, living on the physical edge of the country, the culture of centralization is unbearable: it basically tastes like dumb Parisianism, a combination of despise and cynicism.
    Even worst are the so-called decentralization initiatives, which in fact merely aim to delegate issues to local communities without the means for taking care of them.
    Decentralization in France is the kind of blatant lies that constantly get exposed by facts but keep being preached by politicians.
    Look at what is happening now to the railway system: inter-regional lines like Calais-Metz have disappeared to make way to the upcoming Paris-centered TGV Est system.
    Is there any hope in this country?

  3. David,
    Thanks for your comment.
    Not sure I share the opinion of good old Kierkegaard on this one. Not sure everybody has freedom of tought. Especially if education is weak because some stupid politician decided that it was a good target for a nation to have 80% of people succeeding in high-school exams. Especially if people believe that intelligence is storing knowledge and doing well in IQ tests. Not sure freedom of thought is a good susbtitute for freedom of speech.
    I believe freedom of speech is fundamental in sharing ideas and values for a more functional world.
    Your example of Italy shows why government must not fall in the hands of extremist crooks like the one you mentioned.

  4. Alex,
    Kierkegaard meant his quote to be ironic. At least I see it as ironic...
    For me, censorship is the worst that can happen - it is one step before tyranny and the return to the Dark Ages. It was the Enlightenment that put an end to the combined tyranny of church and non-democratic regimes. All good we have today has its roots in the Elightenment. Freedom, liberty, freedom of Speech - it all only arose only about 200 years ago. And the powers of old are still waiting for their good old times to come return. And I believe the pendulum has already started to swing back.
    That is why I find your post about the outlawing of "web reporters" so frightening. The example of China shows that a state-owned "Thought Police" CAN control the Internet in order to suppress unwanted thoughts and ideas.

  5. David,
    Thanks for the thoughts you contributed here. I am in strong agreement with you about the perils of over-centralized government. As I think are the presidents of French regions who were in Brussels yesterday making their case about direct management of European funding by the regions instead of through the central government. In fact I think France needs to rethink its Constitution (hopefully avoiding to produce a 500 page manual nobody understands). Indeed, bringing the President's term to 5 years may have solved the issue of "co-habitation", but the way they went for decentralization created another uncomfortable coexistence between regions and central government. In a new constitution regions should be represented in a house with powers vis-à-vis the executive branch, pretty much like it is the case in Germany.
    Now about Enlightenment. I could not agree more with you. No day goes by without me thanking in thought the people who had the common sense, the courage and the vision to protest against established powers, practices and hierachies right before the Enlightenment started. I believe we owe it to them in great part.
    As for Kierkegaard, I am afraid not to be expert enough to know whether he was ironic or not there. If he was, then I gladly endorse his irony.