[RFI] French telecoms and broadcasting authorities to be merged (LQDN mediakit, transcription)

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Jérémie Zimmerman, co-founder of La Quadrature du Net, an internet users’ rights watchdog urges French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault to abandon a planned merger of telecoms and the broadcasting authorities which, he says, smells like censorship.

William Niba : Good morning. An organization protecting citizens’ rights to the Internet has accused French Prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault of attempted censorship. The charge by La Quadrature du Net comes after Ayrault instructed three members of his government to study the possibility of merging the telecommunications regulatory authority, ARCEP, and the broadcasting watchdog, the conseil supérieur de l’audiovisuel. The organization claims in a statement that such a scheme is incompatible with the fundamental principles of neutrality governing the Internet, and therefore, should be abandoned. Jérémie Zimmermann is cofounder and spokesperson for the citizens organization La Quadrature du Net, based here in Paris. Monsieur Zimmermann, good morning.

Jérémie Zimmermann : Good morning.

WN : Why are you so fired up against the Prime minister’s plan ?

JZ : Well, first of all, this a project that has been resurfacing like a sea monster, every now and then, for years and it dates back from the previous right-wing government. The problem is we have two very different authorities : the CSA, that is a centralised authority that orders centralised broadcast channels to emit or not to emit, that sets labels on the broadcasts, signals suitable for the young ones or not, etc. and that counts, for instance, the speechtime for candidates during an election. It is an actor deciding of what can be emitted on centralised unidirectional channels that are the media of the 20th century. When we talk of the Internet, of course there are videos on the Internet, but it’s not only that. Internet is about the sharing of knowledge, it’s about access to culture, it’s about democratic participation, it’s about innovation and entrepreneurship. Internet, before all, is a universal communication tool. When content is published on the Internet, it’s not a centralised commercial actor, it can be anyone. We are talking here of a global, a universal communication tool. So imagining just one second that the very same control mechanism and enforcement mechanism, regulation mechanism that we applied in the 20th century to the centralised broadcast networks, imagining that this could work on a free open decentralised Internet, is nonsensical. It is bound to fail and it is bound to be extremely dangerous for fundamental freedoms online because it can only amount, in the end, to giving this audiovisual authority censorship powers over the Internet

WN : There’s got to be some policing of cybercriminals and there should be laws governing the use and abuse of the Internet, at least.

JZ : Of course. On the Internet, everyone is responsible for their action, like in the physical world, there is no difference. But the red herring that is used here to justify this merging is that all the so-called connected TV is coming down to our living-rooms. Of course, there will be some tv sets connected to the Internet sometime soon, but it’s not the tv that connects to the Internet it is a computer. It is an Internet terminal that also allows to view the traditionnal tv channels.

WN : So you don’t buy the idea by the digital economy minister Fleur Pellerin that the merging is aimed at facilitating French creativity, the funding of creativity and in line with France’s distinctive cultural policy ?

JZ : I don’t believe that first of all because this merging was planned years ago also becasue the CSA is notoriously close to the big broadcast companies that are themselves very close to those entertainement industries who keep pushing for a tougher and tougher copyright enforcement that always come to an attempt to harm our of fundamental freedoms like the French Hadopi, like SOPA and PIPA in the US, like the ACTA treaty that we defeated in the European Parliament.

WN : You’re a strong critic of the Hadopi laws introduced by former president Nicolas Sarkozy’s government. If you were forced to use Hadopi as your working document, what would you take out and what would you keep ?

JZ : I think I would scrap it as a whole because Hadopi is the wrong solution to a wrong problem. Hadopi is an instrument in the war against sharing that says that sharing the works you love with people who love the same works as you do is morally wrong and costs the authors and cultural diversity and so on. Three years after it was enacted, in early 2011, Hadopi demonstrated in its very own study that people who share files online are also people wo buy more who spend more for culture than people who do not share. By the very same definition that broadcasting music on the radio doesn’t kill the music industry like believed in the early 20h century, like the blank cassette tapes that didn’t kill te music industry like believed in the 80s, like the VHS tapes didn’t kill the movie industry and so on, and so on… Sharing files on the Internet not only doesn’t kill this industry, but also enables fantastic cultural diversity, enables access to culture for everyone and has just become a natural cultural practice for millions of individuals across the globe. So Ayrault government once again should scrap hadopi as a whole and courageously reform copyright to make sharing between individuals and not for profit, legal and then we can think of new mutualised ways of funging creation in the digital age.

WN : Jérémie Zimmermann cofounder and spokesperson of the global internet watchdog La Quadrature du Net, on the line from downtown Paris. Mister Zimmermann, thank you so much for speaking to Radio France International.

JZ : My pleasure.