Première diffusion le 05/03/2019
Du 28 février au 1er mars 2019 une conférence sur la liberté d’expression s’est tenue à Varsovie à l’initiative du SDP, le syndicat des journalistes polonais, présidé par Krzysztof Skowronsky. Claude Chollet, fondateur de l’Observatoire du journalisme, modérait la session III consacrée aux tabous dans les médias. Nos lecteurs anglophones trouveront ci-dessous un extrait (en anglais) de son intervention sur le sujet.
Taboos, past and present
Before coming to our subject Taboos in the medias, I would like to present you a few taboos, past and present.
Sex and taboo : The Origin of the world, L’Origine du monde, a famous painting made by Courbet in 1866, ordered by Khalil Bey a Turkish diplomat was not to be seen publicly before the end of the last century. The psychanalist Jacques Lacan was one of the last private owners, the painting is now at Musée d’Orsay. A lot of controversies arose around it and in 1994 in Paris a book reproducing the artwork as cover was removed of some booksellers. And you certainly cannot post it on Facebook to-day.
But there are other taboos, religious, and alimentary. Hindouists certainly do not eat cows, Muslims and religious Jews do not eat pork, bouddhists do not eat any meat, Catholics are supposed not to eat meat on Friday and so on and so forth.
Totem and taboo
But what is the scope of a taboo ? In 1913 Sigmund Freud publishes Totem und Tabu. The book studies the taboo of incest. Freud proposes that all modern forms of socialization are shaped by the primitive culture of origin. In addition to that, he states that all behaviors of conformity spring from a common primitive form. This means that to be a member of the tribe you must share the same taboos. Sharing the taboo you are connected to the same totem, you belong to the group. Does this apply to some medias ? Or to the majority of them ? Do mainstream medias share common taboos ? I shall try to answer to those tricky questions.
HABITUS, my dear habit
Habitus is not some sort of Hobbit of Tolkien. The French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu defines habitus (close to habit) as the symbolic system allowing and individual to move himself in society, that is one side. Habitus allows as well the individual to interpret society with the common patterns of his social category. Habitus is not a rule of law, it is a collection of attitudes, semantics, things that may be said and things that must not be said, and in what way they may be said or written. This process is mainly unconscious. The link between taboos and habitus is clear, taboos are a substantial part of the habitus. Now, do we find taboos in the French medias ? Please note that when I will use the word French medias that will be true let’s say for 80% of the medias, same if I use the general term French journalists, there will be many exceptions. Let’s jump in our taboos. I will identify three of them, immigration, insecurity, Islam
Immigration as taboo number one
Extra European immigration in France is a recent pattern. It began in 1974 with President Giscard d’Estaing. The newly elected president allowed what he called family grouping. This means that an extra European worker was entitled to be joined by his family, spouses, children. Any foreigner visiting France, taking the tube or walking in the street can see that the average human appearance of France is changing. Globally speaking, immigration is seen, I should say must be seen as a positive move in the mainstream medias. This is true for the more progressive medias as Le Monde and Libération, with some shadings for the more conservative ones and definitely a standard for the State owned radios and televisions. I would say the same concerning our national press adgency, Agence France Presse. In the mainstream medias it is almost impossible to address any negative effect of immigration considering the economic, cultural and educational side effects. The number of foreigners and descendants of foreigners is impossible to know, only by using alternate and unofficial routes. This is our first big taboo. And a persistent one.
Islam as second taboo
The second taboo presenting some links with the first one is Islam. There were around 10 mosques in France in 1962, now there are around 2000 mosques and 500 mosques are in construction. This could be a wonderful subject of investigation for a team of journalists. How were built those mosques ? When ? With what money ? With what building permits ? Delivered by who ? Another topic on Islam in France could be how are splitted the different Muslim communities by country of origin and what are the different political influences of the States of origin. Except a couple of very short articles linked to the topicality of the day, I never saw or read a solid investigation on those subjects. Why that ? Because Islam is considered as too sensitive a subject to be addressed clearly and without a priori. This is our second taboo.
The third taboo is insecurity. You can speak of exceptional events as the violences during the Yellow Jackets demonstrations. But writing or filming or broadcasting about the common, daily insecurity does not belong to the patterns of habitus. Probably in order to calm down the possible pandemonium, the noise on the subject .Or, this an hypothesis, more simply to hide it. Let’s take a trivial example, car burning. Around 1000 cars are burnt during the last night of the year in France and the same number during the night following our national feast July 14th. This is much more than the destructions made by our yellow jackets in three months. The French authorities decided to not issue any more official information on the subject. If you are not happy with the statistics results then you cancel the statistics…
I should add as a general topic the « ghost news ». By ghost news, I mean facts or details that will be never heard off. I will take a fresh example of this very month. On Feb 16th 2019 in Paris the Jewish French writer and academician Alain Finkielkraut was threatened and insulted by a small group of yellow jackets, three or four persons. Those demonstrators do not represent the movement of the yellow jackets.
It took days to know the name of the main insulter, but not the full name, only Benjamin W. Why only a W ? And why giving the first name and not the family name ? Most probably because Benjamin (if this is his real first name) sounds Christian. Probably also because this man, with a father Algerian and a French mother, might have a name souding islamic. Named Chollet or Kowalski his name would be everywhere. This is simply hiding a part of reality. And this is not a censorship by the State or by the medias owners, this is 99% self censorship.
Taboos’ side effects
To the question : do taboos exist in the French medias ? My answer will be yes, not by law but by habitus. What are the benefits of those taboos ? Certainly to consolidate a feeling of community among a majority of the French journalists. Sharing the same taboos, gathering around the same totem makes you a member of the group. Defying the taboos can make you a professional pariah. Do those taboos have some negative side effects ? A decrease of the quality and credibility of the informations brought to the public ? Do those taboos alter the faith of the French population in the medias ? I will leave the answers to your thoughts.