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Pre-2008 Posts

If This Were France, Imus Could be Sued, Jailed and Fined

In 2004, the French parliament adopted anti-hate speech legislation which provided for year-long jail terms for anyone found guilty of insulting women, lesbian or het, or gay men.  The law put anti-gay and sexist comments on an equal footing with racist or anti-semitic insults, allowing French courts to hand down fines of up to €45,000 ($60,750) and jail sentences of up to 12 months for “defamation or incitement to discrimination, hatred or violence on the grounds of a person’s sex or sexual orientation”.

Anti-woman/gay insults, including any remarks “of a more general nature tending to denigrate homosexuals as a whole”, in public — meaning on air, in print or at a public meeting — were made to be imprisonable offenses, while private sexist or homophobic taunts between individuals could incur fines of up to €375 (about $500). 

French feminist, lesbian and gay rights groups welcomed the law which was a response to significant increases in verbal and physical attacks recorded against women, lesbians and gay men in France.  The feminist group Les Chiennes de Garde, or Guard Bitches, is reported to have stated when the law was passed that its members hoped the law would would lead to fewer physical attacks on women “by first outlawing verbal violence”. 

In response to concerns that the law would have a chilling effect on journalistic free speech and freedom of religion, ” François Cordier, a Paris public prosecutor, said:

“We will have to try to preserve the freedom of expression while respecting the law. Day to day insults …must be punished, as must incitement to violence, hatred, discrimination. But we cannot deny every monotheistic religion an opinion on homosexuality. The courts will have somehow to draw a line between opinions that might be shocking but must be allowed to be expressed in a democracy, and speech that is undeniably homophobic.”

This  past January, a conservative member of France’s ruling party, Christian Vanneste,  was fined almost $4,000, plus $2,000 in court fees,  for stating that “homosexual behaviour endangers the survival of humanity” and that “heterosexuality is morally superior to homosexuality.”  This marked the first conviction of a public official under the new law.  Vanneste also had to pay  for publication of the verdict in the leftist Parisian newspaper Le Monde, the regional Lille daily La Voix du Nord, and the weekly magazine L’Express.

What I  like about this law, among other things, is the way it recognizes and even requires that a society interested in  justice and full civil and human rights for all of its citizens do the difficult work involved in distinguishing speech which targets and attacks oppressed minorities from speech which is personal opinion or religious conviction.  The sentiment in the United States most often seems to be that since it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish speech targeting oppressed or marginalized groups from speech which honestly expresses an opinion or religious belief, nobody, including the courts, should have to bother. The right to utter hate speech, in other words, is believed to be more important than the rights of those harmed by hate speech.

Another thing I like about this legislation is the way it recognizes that it is speech which targets specific oppressed or marginalized groups — women, gay men — which constitutes “hate speech,” and for which legal remedies ought to exist, not any old speech directed against anyone, to include those who hold the power in a society.   You ought to see all the (spammed) comments I have from white American males who stupidly insist that challenges to white male power,  privilege, and dominance are somehow on a par with “racism” or “sexism.”  Legislation like this might shut them up for a bit, at least.

This kind of legislation could be used against the Imuses, Howard Sterns,  Rush Limbaughs,  Larry Flynts, professional basketball players who don’t want gay men on their team, and other male sexists of the world by those targeted and harmed by their attacks and lies.  The French legislation created a tribunal to assist those targeted by sexism and lesbo/homophobia, and Vanneste’s fines were the result of his being sued under the legislation by three gay/lesbian rights groups.   If pornography were included as hate speech under such a law, things might actually begin to change for women.

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12 thoughts on “If This Were France, Imus Could be Sued, Jailed and Fined

  1. Imus would not be the only one. We have a culture of them.

    Posted by chasingmoksha | April 16, 2007, 8:14 pm
  2. One would have thought that a law like this would be ‘standard’ for ‘civilised’ countries.

    Posted by stormy | April 16, 2007, 9:29 pm
  3. Yes, France is way of the US and UK in passing a law which includes gender within anti-hate speech. Not so here in the UK, because our Government refuses to even recognise that anti-women ‘hate speech’ is on a par with homophobia and racism. Hard enough to even get the Government to recognise male violence against women let alone anti-women hate speech or rather misogny.

    Posted by jennifer drew | April 16, 2007, 10:20 pm
  4. And the names we could add to that list, CM, with assinine misogynist bloggers and their women’s auxiliary.

    Posted by Pony | April 16, 2007, 10:48 pm
  5. But, Heart – that would be the “C-Word” – we can’t have that. Woman hating is mansgodgivenright! Those Frenchies are Reds! I bet they’re Pinks too!

    Seriously, this is a law I could get behind but I won’t hold my breath. Racism and sexism are practically bedrocks of our society.

    Posted by KC | April 16, 2007, 10:50 pm
  6. I wonder how pornography can be excluded from such a law. The emphasis of the French law seems to be on homophobic speech, but to my mind, pornography qualifies under all those categories, “defamation or incitement to discrimination, hatred or violence.”

    Posted by Aletha | April 17, 2007, 4:51 am
  7. That the people of France collectively put this law on the books and appear to be serious about enforcing it gives me hope, living as I do in ‘Braindead Televise-The-Baby-Raping Jesusland’… Vive le France!!!

    Posted by akkarri | April 17, 2007, 6:27 am
  8. I like this law because freedom is an outmoded, bourgeois artifice. There is no right and wrong. Only power. And women need to take back power, even if it means the destruction of the entire male-created order of liberal freedoms that have for too long been used to oppress women, minorities, and others.

    Free speech is premised on the idea we’re in a search for “truth” and that the free flow of ideas aids that search. There is no truth. There is no search. All of these pretensions are just masks used by different oppressive forces to carry on their power, what Marx called the superstructure resting on the bedrock of material and power relations of oppression.

    I like how above you say that you “like” certain things about this law. That’s all that matters; what we want. What we like. All these ideas about justifying what we want before the alter of male reason on the false premise that we’re making some intellectual headway or convincing anyone of anything is ridiculous. No one is convinced. Nothing is convincing. It’s just us versus them. Men oppressed us. Now it’s our turn to get what we like, resisting this structure, including freeing ourselves and our sisters from the pain and horror of insult and hurt feelings. Throw these guys in jail for daring to make a woman shed one more tear.

    Posted by Svetlana | April 17, 2007, 3:00 pm
  9. I totally agree with Svetlana, even though he’s trolling. Really nice job there dood!

    But what I find interesting as I’m browsing all these blogs is the atmosphere of resignation, as if “a certain amout” of misogyny is normal. No, it is not. It is not HEALTHY. Perhaps if framed that way, we’d get more accomplished. We can, you know. If you think there is no point in trying, then you’ve already given up even the possibility or opportunity for change.

    Look at almost any rape study, and the research will draw a coorelation between what they call “rape supportive attitudes” – otherwise known as misogyny – and an increased proclivity for raping people. Same for domestic violence.

    Works the same for any negative action. People who engage in an activity have previously decided that type of behavior is acceptable, so when the opportunity arises they will take full advantage. If the environment does not allow those negative forms of expression in the first place, people will not be as able to convince each other and themselves that the attitude is justified.

    Posted by Alicia | April 18, 2007, 2:41 am
  10. Has anyone heard a statement from Feminists Against Censorship on the Imus affair? You’d think they’d be apoplectic over him being fired based on their mission statement but I haven’t seen a press releases or anything like that come from them.

    Posted by Sam | April 18, 2007, 6:25 pm
  11. ^ good catch. They defended Larry Summers, after all.

    Posted by Rich | April 18, 2007, 7:07 pm
  12. Canada also has laws against hate speech, but France goes a lot further.

    At the risk of getting thrown out of the female gender, any abridgement of free speech, short of the clear-and-present-danger stuff scares me.

    Imus being fired isn’t true censorship; that would have to be imposed by the government. It is the market functioning as it should, but rarely does. The people got angry enough not to want this bigot around any more, so he got dumped. I would also get fired for saying such things on the job.

    All said, GOOD RIDDANCE!! I just hope he doesn’t become a yee-haw martyr.

    Posted by Mai | April 20, 2007, 8:50 am

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