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French Proposal To Outlaw "Propaganda ... In Favor of ... [Dangerously] Excessive Thinness":

A French bill (No. 791, April 9, 2008), would provide (translation by my brother Sasha):

"Art. 223-14-1. The fact of provoking a person to seek an excessive thinness by encouraging prolonged dietary restrictions having for effect to expose him to a danger of death or to directly compromise his health is punished by two years of imprisonment and 30,000 euros of fine. The penalties are increased to three years of imprisonment and 45,000 euros of fine when this seeking of excessive thinness has provoked the death of the person.

"Art. 223-14-2. Propaganda or publicity, whatever the method, in favor of products, objects, or methods recommended as means of achieving an excessive thinness having for effect to directly compromise health, is punished by two years of imprisonment and 30,000 euros of fine."

The New York Times reports that the law is supported by the government's health minister, and backed by President Sarkozy's party. "As written, the proposed French law does not make it clear who would be ultimately responsible for the content of such sites — the content creator or the Internet service hosting the site." "[T]he French legislators are seeking to tame a murky world of some 400 sites extolling 'ana' and 'mia,' nicknames for anorexia and bulimia."

Dave N (mail):
Seems like a dumb law, but that has not stopped various governments from doing equally stupid things in the past.

On a hypertechnical note, Nikolas Sarkozy is the President of France; François Fillon is the Prime Minister. [D'oh! Fixed, thanks. -EV]
4.18.2008 7:58pm
Not Applicable:
Interestingly, they insert this right after what is apparently an similar provision aimed at websites promoting suicide. I'm sure I'll be in the minority here, but I don't have a problem with this. Don't forget that these websites are generally aimed at 13-14 year old girls, and there is a better argument in favor of gov't protection when minors are involved.

Open question as to whether it violates the First amendment (thoughts Prof. Volokh?), but the frogs certainly aren't bound by our Constitution.
4.18.2008 8:02pm
Ex-Fed (mail) (www):
One cannot be too rich or too thin. However, one can be too French.
4.18.2008 8:29pm
Uthaw:
First to be charged with promoting "excessive thinness" - Carla Bruni!
4.18.2008 8:55pm
Cactus Jack:
Does this make Florida the France of America? Or is France the Florida of Europe?
4.18.2008 9:01pm
Passing By:
Pro-ANA sites can be disturbing, not only because you have some very young teens who are full-blown anorexics talking about how little they eat, or how bad they feel about, say, nibbling a lettuce leaf (or gasp cake). But also because the "diet tips" can be pretty extreme, like using adderall, ritalin and cocaine as an appetite suppressant. (For what it's worth, although it's sometimes mentioned as helpful for weight loss, the message on heroin is typically "it's not worth it.")

It's not really different from any other group of people who were effectively in isolation before the Internet, but can now form communities. Usually that works out for the greater good (see, e.g., well, right here), but sometimes it isn't.
4.18.2008 9:38pm
BRM:
The title of this post can be misread to say France intends to replace propaganda with excessive thinness, whatever that might mean.
4.18.2008 10:09pm
Cornellian (mail):
No need to outlaw such propaganda here - it's not having any effect anyway.
4.18.2008 10:31pm
whit:
govt. is never more odious than when it attempts to protect us from ourselves. note that such awful policies as the "war on drugs" stems from this mentality.
4.18.2008 10:47pm
Fearless:

No need to outlaw such propaganda here - it's not having any effect anyway.


How do you know that the propaganda does not have any effect?
4.18.2008 10:52pm
Fearless:

govt. is never more odious than when it attempts to protect us from ourselves. note that such awful policies as the "war on drugs" stems from this mentality.


First, this is obviously not true. When government engages in mass murder (i.e. the German government during WWII, the Iraq government under Saddam Hussein, the government of the Soviet Union under Stalin) it is more odious than when it attempts to protect people from themselves.

Second, your point of view fails to take into consideration the fact that not everyone is mentally well. Furthermore, even among those who are mentally well, we are not fully rational. Finally, even when we are rational, we are often rationally ignorant.

The bottom-line is that this generalization of yours cannot stand. Maybe you should stick with specifics.

Government is never more odious when it requires people to wear seat belts? If you think that, then I am happy that government is so wonderful that this is the worst of your problems. Sadly, this statement is not accurate, as governments have in fact been much more odious than this.

Overall, I would say the lesson here for you is to not be so quick to generalize.
4.18.2008 10:59pm
Benjamin Davis (mail):

"De la provocation au suicide et à la maigreur excessive"


The title of the crime should be added. "Provocation" should not be translated as "provoking".

The sense of the phrase is more of "causing suicide and causing excessive thinness" (consistent with a greater crime and a lesser crime)

I do not think that the "provoquer" should be translated as "provoked" in English. The sense is more like "causing or inciting."

It is the whole problem of translating legal ideas from one culture to another in a meaningful way.

Hope this helps,
Best,
Ben
4.18.2008 11:01pm
whit:
"First, this is obviously not true. When government engages in mass murder (i.e. the German government during WWII, the Iraq government under Saddam Hussein, the government of the Soviet Union under Stalin) it is more odious than when it attempts to protect people from themselves. "

i see your point. my point is that the latter is OBVIOUSLY evil and thus easier to reject, criticize and avoid. it aint subtle. but in the former cases, it's seen as "for our own good" "to protect the children" etc. and is thus more insidious, more sneaky, and often more successful. so, i probably didn't put it the right way, but at least when you are faced with obvious evil, it's easy to decry, and not something you can see "happening here". but when it's the former example, it is much more readily accepted or even defended. that's my point.

it's kind of like the whole soft bigotry thang. sure, people who lynched blacks are OBVIOUS worse than those who engage in "soft bigotry".

"Second, your point of view fails to take into consideration the fact that not everyone is mentally well."

no, it doesn't.

it accepts that it is not the govt's job to protect those that are not mentally well from other people's speech.

that's an unacceptable tradeoff.

" Furthermore, even among those who are mentally well, we are not fully rational. Finally, even when we are rational, we are often rationally ignorant. "

so what? and we are ultimately responsible for our own actions.

reminds me of the lawsuit over the song "suicide solution".

it's never anybody's fault, it's SOMEBODY ELSE's fault. and the govt. is here to help.

sorry if my prose was too inartful for me to get my point across.
4.18.2008 11:31pm
Fearless:

sorry if my prose was too inartful for me to get my point across.


Artful prose.... Who cares. It is a blog comment.

I see what you mean now.

I disagree, of course. But it makes more sense.
4.18.2008 11:35pm
Dave N (mail):
I just think that both the French Parliament and Florida State Senate have too much time on their hands.
4.19.2008 12:09am
whit:
dave, this is france for pete's sake. a country where they can fine you for using american'isms in advertising. a country that has a "ministry of culture" (how orwellian).
4.19.2008 3:26am
Jack S. (mail) (www):
Without doing more research I cannot be sure, but the responsibility aspect would probably be covered by the Loi pour la confiance dans l'économoie numérique (LCEN) which defines responsibility of ISP's and individuals in the web space.

To get further clarity you'd need to look at the recent application of this law by the courts. Google for trademark infringement via their "AdWords" (lost, not an ISP and therefore responsible for the content), and Free for copyright infringement (won, they are an ISP and do not monitor content).

The LCEN is a transposition of EU directive 2000/31/CE which you could get in English via the Curia website.

Further reading (in French) is here which relates to defamation and denigration (a bit more akin to content which is prohibit of public policy reasons) Thoughts on the Ill Willed in Web 2.0 : Defamation or Denigration?

While I don't take an opinion on the quality of the law drafting, I do note that the NY Times article leaves out some of the facts of the Assembly's justification. There are websites online now which explain how to throw up food, which foods are best for throwing up, other tips and techniques to stay anorexically thin, etc.
4.19.2008 4:54am
martinned (mail) (www):
L.S.,

@whit: FYI, every European government has a Minsistry for Culture, even the UK. I'm not sure what's so Orwellian about that.
4.19.2008 7:20am
MDJD2B (mail):
We do not permit cigarette advertising aimed at minors.

Is it really so terrible to attempt to curtail people from influencing minors to engage in dangerous behavior?
4.19.2008 10:13am
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
MDJD2B: This French law isn't limited to minors.
4.19.2008 11:48am
Eugene Volokh (www):
MDJD2B: Nor is it limited to commercial advertising. Think by analogy of a law that bans all "Propaganda or publicity, whatever the method, in favor of smoking" -- not limited to commercial advertising or to speech targeted to minors.
4.19.2008 12:52pm
whit:
"@whit: FYI, every European government has a Minsistry for Culture, even the UK. I'm not sure what's so Orwellian about that"

my viewpoint is that europe, and EU in particular is moving towards an orwellian nightmare in general.

in regards to france's ministry of culture, it's not just that it tries to promote french culture, it's that it uses the heavy hand of govt. to punish those who it sees as deviating from cultural norms - like using american phrases in advertising, etc.
4.19.2008 2:14pm
Fub:
Passing By wrote at 4.18.2008 8:38pm:
Pro-ANA sites can be disturbing, not only because you have some very young teens who are full-blown anorexics talking about how little they eat, or how bad they feel about, say, nibbling a lettuce leaf (or gasp cake). ...

It's not really different from any other group of people who were effectively in isolation before the Internet, but can now form communities. Usually that works out for the greater good (see, e.g., well, right here), but sometimes it isn't.
No doubt the intarweb vastly multiplies the likelihood for such bad outcomes. But decades ago a colleague observed firsthand a key behavioral component that drives AN "communities" toward bad outcomes.

His teenaged daughter suffered full blown AN. She had some insight into the psychology of the condition (but not enough). She believed that a "self help group" of fellow AN sufferers would allow them to help each other back to dietary sanity by providing a community of emotional support for recovery. Her model was more or less the same as Alcoholics Anonymous. She organized a group, but unfortunately without any oversight by psychological or medical clinicians. Within a few meetings the group's focus had changed dramatically, from support for recovery and sane diet, to competition to eat even less and lose even more weight.

Needless to say, my colleague put a stop to his daughter's participation, and the group broke up. But the key (and anecdotal) observation is that ordinary competition among teens in groups creates huge potential for outcomes exactly opposite to the initial intent of everyone in the group.

That "AN communities" will form via newer communication technologies is not a surprise. All manner of interest communities form via new technology.

What likely does surprise authorities such as the French, is that the psychological mechanisms by which these communities fluoresce into extreme pathology are the same old mechanisms existing prior to the technology. Government can't prevent the group pathology by outlawing use of technology for the speech any more effectively than by outlawing simple face to face communication.

Government can encourage formation of appropriately professionally guided "communities" by the same means it encourages other voluntary organizations, through jawboning, tax breaks, or direct funding. One can find fault with those means, but both in principle and outcome they are infinitely preferable to outlawing the pathological speech.
4.19.2008 3:28pm
Jack S. (mail) (www):

my viewpoint is that europe, and EU in particular is moving towards an orwellian nightmare in general.

in regards to france's ministry of culture, it's not just that it tries to promote french culture, it's that it uses the heavy hand of govt. to punish those who it sees as deviating from cultural norms - like using american phrases in advertising, etc.


Is that based on any fact or just imagination and conjecture? Do you have an recent evidence of such practices? I just picked up a French motorcycle magazine which has an ad about every other page. In the first 10 pages I saw 4 out of 5 ads using at least on English word or phrase as their catch line or whatever the heck advertising people call it.

Do you also know that the EU has strong personal data protection? Like you can't go selling individuals personal information without some authorization. And if you do, there's big fines and liability to the wronged individual(s). In the US you just get an e-mail that say oops our secretary inadvertently gave your socsec number to the nice hacker that called her up on the phone and asked if he could have access to our database.

The EU also just recently struck down a proposal from France that was going to require ISP's to keep connection information for a few years and divulge it under certain circumstances. Guess who was behind the law? music publishers et. al.

Orwellian? give me a break.
4.19.2008 3:51pm
whit:
"Is that based on any fact or just imagination and conjecture?"

fact.
"The 1994 'Toubon Law', so called after its proposer, the then Minister of Culture, Jacques Toubon, decreed that French must be used in six main domains: education, commerce, the media, the workplace, public service and the conference industry. An officially approved vocabulary had to be used by public servants (who include all teachers, researchers and many workers in non-privatised utilities and industries). Civil servants' career prospects were to depend on their use of French, and a supplementary Circular from the Prime Minister to all Ministers underlined this in April 1994. Punishments, ranging from fines to imprisonment, were to be levied on those contravening the law. Public debate at the time was generally in agreement that something should be done, despite accusations of Fascism, the despair of linguists about such misguided attempts to impose language use by decree, and a specific reference of the Act, by the Socialist Opposition in Parliament, to the Constitutional Council to see whether it breached the fundamental principles of the Constitution. The decision was that any attempt to impose language use on the general public was unconstitutional, but that the Government had every right to require public servants to use French and there was nothing wrong with imposing quotas of French music on radio and TV stations, enforcing the use of French in colloquia or in advertising. Many British newspapers - and indeed some French ones - had a field day chortling about 'Mr Allgood' (i.e. M. Toubon) and his ludicrous Law attempting to ban 'Anglo-Saxon', but few of them made any serious attempt to understand the motives nor the sense of offence many French citizens clearly felt about the take-over of their culture and way of life by alien influences.

The effectiveness of laws like these is certainly higher than it was in the 1970s and 1980s, when the enforcing agency for the previous French Act quickly discovered it had better things to do than lay itself open to ridicule by conducting a vendetta against small-time businessmen who had the temerity to label their car sales businesses 'Showroom' rather than using a French term. There were one or two show trials - of British Airways, for example - but these led to squabbles with the European Commission about free competition and a humiliating climbdown.

The Toubon legislation took the precaution of sounding out the Commission first and using the 1992 Constitutional amendment and the GATT negotiations on the cultural exclusion concession to get the Act through and make sure it could be presented as part of anti-American, pro-European legislation rather than simply anti-English; but nonetheless one of the first announced victims of the 1994 Act was a British firm (The Body Shop), fined in late 995, and the Commission has been notified of objections in the case of insurance contracts, where both German and British firms have been obliged to draw up documents in French even though their operations apply throughout Europe and they may have only minor interests in France. Overall, during 1994 the government organisation charged with identifying incidents had investigated 1,918 cases, found 308 offences, issued warnings for 201 of them and transmitted 107 cases to legal officers. To judge by the outcome of the 165 cases transmitted in 1993, which had resulted in only 22 convictions, the effort is great but the results less so."

http://www.intellectbooks.com/europa/number5/ager.htm


"Do you have an recent evidence of such practices? I just picked up a French motorcycle magazine which has an ad about every other page.
"

do you live IN FRANCE?? for pete's sake, french laws don't apply to people outside of france.

my point is what france does in france. they can fine people (although there have been a few positive cases in the courts against this law) for using "americanisms" in advertisements, etc.

"In the first 10 pages I saw 4 out of 5 ads using at least on English word or phrase as their catch line or whatever the heck advertising people call it. "

again, stunningly irrelevant.

"Orwellian? give me a break."

here's a hint... research first, THEN form an opinion

hth
4.19.2008 6:13pm
Jack S. (mail) (www):

do you live IN FRANCE


As a matter of fact I do.

Do you really think the Toubon law even remotely affects anyone's life here?


here's a hint... research first, THEN form an opinion


I'd like to think working, reading and practicing law from time to time in this Orwellian state is sufficient.
4.20.2008 4:19am
martinned (mail) (www):
L.S.,

@Jack S.: I suspect it's a legal culture thing as much as anything else. In the US, any law on the books involves people sueing under it. If not, it's not a properly written law. (ubi ius, ibi actio) In continental Europe, laws such as this one or the Toubon law, are more an order by parliament to the government telling them to try harder than anything else.
4.20.2008 3:27pm
Peter Wimsey:
whit -

Wikipedia has a good article on the Toubon law, the most relevant part being:

One broad aspect of the law is that it makes it mandatory for commercial advertisements and public announcements to be given in French. This does not rule out advertisements made in a foreign language: it is sufficient to provide a translation in a footnote. This was justified as a measure for the protection of the consumer. Additionally, product packaging must be in French.



In other words, it doesn't prohibit the use of English in ads, although it may require a translation. By contrast, ISTR that Howard Stern was fined $500,000 for speech that the government disapproved of - I think that is much more orwellian than the Toubon law.
4.20.2008 4:34pm
Jack S. (mail) (www):

I suspect it's a legal culture thing as much as anything else. In the US, any law on the books involves people sueing under it. If not, it's not a properly written law. (ubi ius, ibi actio) In continental Europe, laws such as this one or the Toubon law, are more an order by parliament to the government telling them to try harder than anything else.


Actually that is a culture that has been changing as of recent. The EU has started to allow some private enforcement of public order/policy law, notably in antitrust. Still rare compared to the US though.

Also the Toubon law seems to allow certain equitable actions via employees (through the Labor Code) and I would guess perhaps consumers too if they felt they've been led astray by a non french language contract. I know the employee v. employer action exists, can't say for the latter. No expert on it, and certainly do not care to be. It would not pay the bills.
4.20.2008 5:18pm