by Aralena Malone-Leroy
With a record-breaking voter-participation of 86% registered on May 6th, the French citizen’s participation in politics appears to have taken a positive turn from resignation and apathy to genuine interest and action. The reasons for this about-face of public participation in the political sphere are manifold, and emerging media seem to be playing an increasingly larger role.
According to a recent study lead by Echo Research France, the weblog, or blog, earned the long-coveted status as a viable medium of political communications in the 2007 French presidential elections, and one which the major parties – particularly l’Union pour un Mouvement Populaire, and le Parti socialiste - successfully used to their advantage.
Researchers also took into account those blogs run by “citizen journalists,” or civically passionate citizens with no official affiliation to a political party, who voice their opinions through posts on self-published blogs. After measuring traffic and commentary on blogs, the results indicate a marked increase in both activity and dialogue regarding the elections, similar to the notable spike in voter turnout. (Interestingly, the smaller parties that chose not to the exploit the blog as a medium of communication were markedly less represented in the election results.)
With the proverbial ‘democratizing effect’ of the internet finally proving its worth against the old, trickle-down media structure, the subsequent impact on politically inherited social customs and values – freedom of speech, protection against defamation of character, equality of coverage – are coming under scrutiny and attack, and not just by the vanguards of the mainstream media. Politicians whose careers lean heavily on legally sanctioned coverage, which the seasoned journalist is likely to understand and give (indeed, whose own career depends upon this symbiotic quid pro quo), cannot depend upon the citizen journalist/blogger to provide similar treatment.
This tenuous and increasingly prevalent situation is currently creating legal predicaments in France. On June 6th, five candidates running in the legislative elections, held on June 10th, were instructed by the Commission nationale des comptes de campagne et des financements politiques (CNCCFP - the National Commission on Political Campaign Accounts and Financing) to immediately shut down their blogs for the duration of the campaign. Hailing from a variety of political parties and platforms, each of the candidates blogged regularly on the political landscape for nationally syndicated dailies L’Express and Libération.
The CNCCFP denies that censorship is at issue; in short, they asserted that the problem lies with the fact that the blogging provided a free platform for candidates, creating unequal amounts of media coverage, and accounting discrepancies. However, the CNCCFP also admitted that since they had no legislation dealing specifically with political coverage on web publications, they were obliged to apply standing jurisprudence to the new medium.
The dilemma is clear: in order for a democratic society to function optimally, both access to information unfettered by corporate and political interests, and the public’s participation in civic debate are essential. Citizen journalists, as independent reporters, can provide that. On the other hand, citizen journalism should be held to the same editorial standards as “mainstream media” journalists, especially if they hope to be taken seriously as a source of accurate information.
A palpable wind of change in the way political messages are communicated to the voting public is undeniably among us. The information revolution taking place along fiber optics and high speed internet connections has engendered ethical and legal considerations that demand the attention of both disseminators and consumers of information – that is, everyone. Applying old law to new paradigms risks, albeit unintentionally, smothering voices, opinions, and ideas that have, until recently, been silenced by the gatekeepers of corporate media.
About the Author
Aralena Malone-Leroy, currently divides her time between creating buzz at a high-tech PR firm in Paris, France, pursuing a Masters in Communications and Journalism, and writing about her (mis)adventures in the ville lumière.