Thursday, April 17, 2008

Freedom Of Speech And Body Image

Reading daily papers, as is my want, I wandered into this article, and thought that perchance some might find it interesting.

Those pesky French are developing a law that bans websites from promoting extreme thinness. (see copy of article at the end .) I thought that this was an interesting case in that raises issues of the normative aspects of communication, i.e. annorexia websites, but more importantly, of legal measures being put in place to prevent or restrict such normative affects.
That our sense of self is affected by society around us is probably no major controversy. That laws can be put in place to mediate these affects is quite a different kettle of fish. Should freedom of speech be restricted in support of vulnerable peoples? Is an annorexia website or a photo in a fashion magazine covered by a right to freedom of speech? Are these laws another slide down the slope of the state restricting our access to the internet, and is that a bad thing? etc etc etc

From The Age:
French law to block anorexia websites

Paris, April 17, 2008

IN IMAGE-CONSCIOUS France, it may soon be a crime to glamorise the ultra-thin. New legislation aims crack down on websites that advise anorexics how to starve — and could be used to hit fashion industry heavyweights, too.

The French parliament's lower house has adopted the groundbreaking bill that would make it illegal to incite extreme thinness.

It recommends fines of up to 45,000 euros ($A76,805) and three-year prison sentences for offenders. It next goes to the Senate in the coming weeks.

Fashion industry experts have said that, if passed, the law would be the strongest of its kind anywhere. And given France's longtime status as a fashion capital, it could send shock waves through the industry worldwide.

The anorexia-linked death of a Brazilian model in 2006 prompted efforts throughout the international fashion industry to address the health repercussions of using ultra-thin models.

The bill is short on specifics. Critics noted that it does not spell out who it is targeting or even define "extreme thinness". Doctors and psychologists welcomed the move, but said anorexia's link with media images remains hazy.

French politicians and fashion industry members signed a non-binding charter last week on promoting healthier body images. But the bill's author, conservative MP Valery Boyer, said this did not go far enough.

Her bill has focused attention on pro-anorexia websites that, for instance, give advice on how to eat an apple a day — and nothing else.

Health Minister Roselyne Bachelot said websites that encourage young girls to starve should not be protected by freedom of expression.

Ms Boyer said her proposed law would also enable a judge to sanction those responsible for a magazine photo of a model whose "thinness altered her health".

"That is the objective of this text," she said without specifying who might be prosecuted.


1 comment:

Jason said...

I'm sure there are lots of interesting ethical dilemmas raised by your questions, Adam. But as for the newspaper coverage of the French legislation: it sounds to me like a silly sensationalist beat-up of a perfectly everyday law. Surely it's already illegal in many countries to advise people on how to kill themselves, isn't it? I think it counts as assisting suicide in England, for example, although I'm not 100% sure about that.