David R. Henderson  

Where is Fred Kahn When We Need Him Again?

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Follow us on banana.

French anchors on television can't mention specific social networking sites unless a story is about them because of a 1992 law, highlighting the difficulty of legislating in the Internet age.

The host of a news or talk show is not allowed to say, "Follow us on Twitter at..." or "See our Facebook page," because such statements fall afoul of a law intended to prevent product placement-type advertising. Instead, anchors must use generic terms like, "Find us on popular social networking sites."


This is from "French News Networks Can't Mention Facebook, Twitter."

Why the reference to Fred Kahn, the late Cornell economist who did so much to free airline travel from regulation, causing air fares to fall? Because when he was an economic adviser to Jimmy Carter, he was prohibited from using the word "recession." His fix? Use the word "banana" in place of "recession."

Peter Ferenczi, the author, goes on to write:

The well-intentioned 1992 law seeks to ensure that broadcast media -- largely publicly funded in France and with strict advertising rules -- is kept independent from marketing.

Maybe the law was well-intentioned, but Ferenczi doesn't give evidence that it was.

See this article by Matthew Fraser for some of the other petty ways in which the French government has attacked economic freedom.

HT to Tyler Cowen.


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CATEGORIES: Regulation



COMMENTS (5 to date)
Ted writes:

I think this story says a lot more about the follies of publicly funded media. If the media wasn't publicly funded, this type of law wouldn't likely have even been contemplated.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Ted,
I think your first statement is true, but your second is not. It would have been less likely to have been contemplated, but, in France, just as in the United States, governments regulate private telecommunications media and they use this regulation to ban various words. In the United States, there are 7 of them, and the government here hasn't dared ban them from print media. So having the government have power over media, whether the media are government-owned or private, gives the government the leverage to do these things.

Shane writes:

There was a bizarre situation during the Northern Irish Troubles when both British and Irish governments passed censorship laws to silence those supporting the terrorist groups.

In Ireland this led to a weird compromise in which Gerry Adams (then leader of Sinn Fein, the political party associated with the Provisional IRA) would speak on television but have his voice muted, and his exact words spoken instead by an actor!

mobile writes:

"Follow us on French-Broadcast-Standards-Regulators-are-Bananas.com"

kurt writes:

Would they run afoul of the law in France if they use protected geographical names like champagne or roquefort? That seems like product placement as well :)

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