For years politicians and government officials from Paris to the District of Columbia have enjoyed a snug relationship with mainstream media outlets and many prominent journalists. However, with the rise of blogging, this cozy arrangement, where journalists received noteworthy stories in exchange for a certain discretion involving many political scandals, is rapidly coming to a conclusion. Bloggers have no access to many of the public figures they cover and thus have little fear in damaging their rapport with these noteworthy persons. For this reason, many bloggers hold nothing back in many of their posts; to the great dismay of public figures around the world used to the traditional relationship between mainstream media and state figures.
A 2009 article in the New York Times, As Web Challenges French Leaders, They Push Back, addressed the problems the administration of Nicolas Sarkozy had with bloggers during the former president’s term.
French bloggers covered a number of incidents many mainstream journalists would not likely have brought to light on their own accord. These incidents, ranging from Sarkozy, dismissing an unsupportive citizen with crude language, to former Secretary of State for Family, Nadine Morano, dancing suggestively with men many years her junior, to former Minister of Immigration, Eric Besson, making obscene gestures to cameras; created a maelstrom of negative opinion, Sarkozy and his staff were completely unprepared for.
Predictably, French politicians were quick to lambast and intimidate this new force of cyber delinquents.
“We can no longer say anything, we can no longer do anything…it’s the beginnings of totalitarianism,” said Henri Guaino, a former special advisor to Sarkozy.
Moreover, Sarkozy’s government went beyond simply denouncing the bloggers by filling lawsuits and monitoring many citizens internet activity.
In one particular case, Dominique Broueilh faced an $18,000 fine after commenting on the whereabouts of Secretary Morano. Morano later dropped the charges but the incident caused Broueilh to remark, “I don’t leave my opinion on online videos anymore.”
Here lies the great danger in politicians’ counter-offensive against the unrestricted and unfiltered coverage offered by blogs throughout the world.
After years of receiving cushy and predictable coverage from the mainstream media it is understandable that many politicians cannot tolerate the unrelenting pressure bloggers can put on any public figure at any time. It is even predictable, that the aforementioned public officials react in a manner as drastic as filing lawsuits.
Nevertheless, it is of the upmost importance that the inability of politicians to handle overt criticism over a wide variety of incidents does not limit the ability of bloggers to exercise free speech. The charges against Broueilh may have been dropped but in the wake of the incident she no longer feels comfortable sharing her opinions online.
This specific scenario is unacceptable. Governments around the world need to accept that blogs are here to stay and the fact that bloggers do not abide by the amicable relationship shared by professional journalists and public officials, does not mean bloggers have any less right to opine on the issues most important to them and their communities.