Posts Tagged ‘France Televisions’

John Kampfner on the Growth of the Surveillance State in France under Sarkozy

March 7, 2016

It isn’t just in Britain where the powers of the state to monitor and imprison its citizens have been massively expanded. John Kampfner in his book, Freedom for Sale describes not only the growth of authoritarian government not just in Britain, and in the traditionally closed societies of China and Russia, but also in the United Arab Emirates, Singapore, India, Berlusconi’s Italy and France under Sarkozy.

He states that in France Sarko introduced a series of measures expanding the surveillance and intelligence gathering powers of the secret police and authorising the preventative arrest of terrorist or criminal suspects. His Socialist opponents have compiled a ‘black book’ of attacks on liberty by Sarko’s government since 2007.

For example, in November 2008 anti-terrorist police arrested twenty people in the small village of Tarnac. There was little real evidence against them. They were arrested because they were suspected of writing a book, The Coming Insurrection, and of being members of the ‘ultra-left’.

In June 2008, Sarko created EDVIGE, a feminine-sounding acronym that stands for Exploitation documentaire et valorisation de l’information generale. It’s a database of groups, organisations and individuals, which the state considers a threat, or possible threat. The database includes not just known criminals, or criminal suspects, but also the people, who associate with them. The EDVIGE database also includes information on their jobs, marriage status and family history; their former and present addresses, phone numbers and email addresses; their physical appearance, including photographs, and descriptions of how they behave. It also includes their identity papers, car number plates, tax records and legal history.

Gay organisations have been worried and criticised the database because it will also store information on people’s sexual orientation and health, as a means of keeping track of AIDS. It has also been condemned by the French magistrates’ union, which declared that it was ‘undemocratic’ and would ‘inform the government on politically active people’. Even the establishment newspaper, le Monde criticised it, commenting ‘A state governed by the rule of law cannot accept the penalisation of supposed intentions’.

Sarkozy’s government stated that much of the database’s function is to keep track on teenage gangs in the suburbs of the major cities. As part of this, the database will include information on children as young as thirteen. This followed the declaration of the Interior Minister, Michele Alliot-Marie, that there had been an increase in teenage delinquency. The French public responded by making her the winner of the tenth Big Brother Awards. The judges decided she deserved the award based on her distinguished contributions to violations of privacy, her love of video surveillance, and ‘immoderate taste for putting French citizens on file’.

The government has also set up a drone programme, ELSA, or Engins legers de surveillance aerienne, creating and testing robot aircraft equipped with night vision cameras to observe criminal and anti-social behaviour from above.

Sarko also used his personal influence to get troublesome journalists either to fall into line. If they didn’t, he got them sacked. When he was Interior Minister, he had the veteran prime-time newsreader, Patrick Poivre d’Arvor sacked from the private station, TFI, after he described Sarko at the G8 summit as ‘looking like a little boy in the big boy’s club’. Alain Genestar was sacked as editor in chief of Paris Match, after he published pictures of his then wife, Cecilie Sarkozy in New York with the man, who later became her husband. He also had another story spiked in Le Journal du Dimanche about Cecilie not voting during the presidential election. When he married his next wife, Carla Bruni, the two were hailed by the newspaper as ‘the Star Couple’.

He also passed a series of legislation strengthening government control over television. In 2009, parliament approved a set of laws gradually phasing out advertising on the state television stations. Instead, the stations would be funded by the state. Furthermore, the Chief Executive of France Televisions would be nominated directly by the president, not by the broadcast regulator.
He was also called ‘le telepresident’ because of the way he orchestrated political events like a reality TV show.

Le Monde describe Sarko as having created ‘a new model of media control’, which fell somewhere between Berlusconi’s and Putin’s style of autocratic government. The newspaper noted that much of Sarko’s control of the press was informal. It observed that unlike Berlusconi, he didn’t have to own newspapers and the media in order to censor and control them. His friends in charge of them did that. (pp. 179-82).

All over Europe and the world, government are becoming increasingly dictatorial and autocratic. This has to be stopped before freedom dies and is replaced across the globe with the jackboot and the fist of the police state.

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Viva Zapatero: The Beeb, Sarkozy, Berlusconi and Political Censorship in Television

February 24, 2016

One of the issues that comes up regularly is the question of BBC bias. In actual fact, there doesn’t seem to be much question there. BBC News is very biased against the left and in favour of the Tories. There have been studies done by media monitoring organisations in Glasgow, Edinburgh and elsewhere. Mike over at Vox Political has pointed out that the Beeb will ignore certain strikes, or grudgingly give them coverage only online. There was anger the other week when the panel on Question Time was nearly all composed of right-wingers. Nick Robinson censored and distorted one of Alex Salmond’s speeches during the Scots independence campaign to make it appear he didn’t answer a question when he did. Robinson was the former head of the Young Conservatives at Manchester University. And Laura Kuenssberg doesn’t really bother writing her own material any more. She just recycles press releases from Tory central office.

But ’twas ever thus. One of the commenters on this blog pointed out that the Beeb ran government propaganda against the strikers during the General Strike. Yet still the right jumps up and down ranting about ‘liberal’ bias at the BBC. There are liberal voices there, but they’re increasingly kept away from the main news and comment.

Kampfner in his book Freedom for Sale: How We Made Money and Lost Our Liberty describes the development elsewhere in the world of similar political bias and censorship in television. He looks at the way Sarkozy in France and Berlusconi in Italy both overtly sought to extend state control over television in order to suppress or censor unfavourable broadcasting. In the case of Sarkozy, the centre-right president passed a series of legislation in 2009 which reinforced government control over publicly owned television stations. This was aimed at phasing out commercial advertising, which would be replaced by government funding. Kampfner states that this made French television dependent on the goodwill of the central government. He also removed the responsibility for nominating the Chief Executive of France Televisions, and instead made it one of the powers of the presidency. He also ensure that the contract could be severed at any time, and the CEO dismissed. (p. 181).

It’s not hard to see parallels between this and the way the government has continually exerted pressure on the BBC. I can remember John Major’s administration threatening the Beeb with cuts in the licence fee, or refusing to raise the licence fee to extent desired by the broadcaster. The Tories have also made noises about not renewing the Corporation’s charter, and privatising it, either wholly or in part.

The most extreme example of state political control of television in Europe outside Putin’s Russia and the former Soviet bloc is probably Berlusconi in Italy. Kampfner states that Berlo not only owned the major private broadcasters, but also very strictly controlled state television. Editors and managers, who refused to toe his line were removed from their posts after the diminutive Duce had a few words with the board. Those TV shows he didn’t like, or which criticised him, were taken off the air. One of the most notorious of these was the satirical show, Raiot, shown late nights on Rai Tre, Italian TV’s third channel. This directly lampooned Berlo himself, and so not only did the vain squadristo with the dodgy hair implants have it pulled from television, his private TV station, Mediaset, sued. Sabina Guzzanti, the show’s writer, made a film about this debacle, entitled Viva Zapatero. This became a surprise hit and the Cannes Film Festival It’s title is not just a homage to the film, Viva Zapata, but also a tribute to the Spanish centre-left president, Jose Zapatero, who removed the right to nominate the head of the state television authority from presidential control.

Censorship and political bias at the Beeb long predates the modern, insistent Tory bias, but it seems to be a part of the increasing right-wing authoritarianism across Europe, a process that needs to be tackled before free speech is gradually snuffed out across the continent.

More about the Raiot affair can be read here, on the site for US Citizens for Peace and Justice: http://www.peaceandjustice.it/o25-viva-zapatero.php

I found this English language interview from 2008 with Guzzanti, where she talks a bit about the Raiot incident, and her forthcoming movie, Sympathy for the Lobster. Influenced by Jean-Luc Godard’s film about the Rolling Stones, she says that this movie is about what happens when you want to change society politically, but can’t because politics is too corrupt. She also mentions that she has two more films in production, one on satirists and censorship, and another which was to be a straightforward documentary on Italian society.

If you can speak Italian or Spanish, here’s the trailer for the film Viva Zapatero itself. It’s in Italian, with Spanish subtitles. There are piece of English. This includes a sketch she did as Berlusconi with our own Rory Bremner as Tony Bliar, and a Spitting Image-like puppet sequence where Dubya and the other leaders sing ‘We fight the world’. Oh yes, and at one point two of the characters from Pulp Fiction leap out and shoot Berlusconi.