The Negative Impact of “Neutrality” on LGBTQ Issues in the French Media: Fulbright Project to be carried out in 2018.

illustrationThis is a small excerpt of a project I sent to the the French American Fulbright Comission. It was selected by the Special Program for NGO Leaders. I will thus spend six months, from Februry 15 to August 2018, in the USA as a Fulbright Fellow to compare the way the French and the American media cover minorities issues. A lot remains to be detailed, but I have already received invitations from the Drexel University, the NLGJA (American association of LGBT Journalists), Aestrea (the Lesbian Foundation for Justice), GLAAD.

Here are a few glimpses on the context and content of this project as formulated in May 2017. Since then, my recent studies and activist work have led me to reflect more on the so called fake-news and their connection to hate speech.  The project will for sure also focuse on this latter point and how fake-news are the way “privileged people make sure, thanks to the media, that this world remains theirs and silence minorities”.

  1. Background

I am a 38 French media, feminist and lesbian activist. I have been the leader of many feminist and LGBTI campaigns. I am also a journalist specializing in media investigation (I have been a media columnist of the most-read French daily newspaper for 10 years) and a teacher in journalism and media studies at the Université Catholique de Paris. I also write a blog in French on the way journalists report on minorities. My project for the Fulbright Program is focused on my activity as President of the French Association of LGBT Journalists (AJL), which advocates for better media coverage of LGBTQ2 issues.

My role in the various NGOs I joined or founded was to be the media strategist and spokeswoman. These positions enabled me to witness very closely, and from different points of views, the way journalists have proved to be unable to cover LGBT issues fairly. As a feminist and out lesbian activist working in a mainstream media’s newsroom, I have seen for years how the so-called “journalism objectivity” impacts minorities. I was often prevented from writing on feminism and homosexual matters, since I was a feminist and a lesbian myself. The French media will never consider you will know better about those subjects because you are closely related to them: on the contrary, they will claim that it is not deontological for a journalist to cover issues, which involve their own life experience.

In addition to this experience, the successful emergence of “La Manif pour tous”, one of the most powerful anti-gay and hate groups ever created in France, in 2012, in the midst of the same-sex marriage debate, and the fact that this emergence was mainly due to its media omnipresence, convinced me to create the very first French Association of LGBT Journalists (AJL) in response to months of discriminatory media coverage of the LGBT issues.

2. Objectives

The volley of homophobic attacks in 2012 carried out by “La Manif pour tous” managed to impose a normative and traditionalist rhetoric on the headlines at the expense of the progressive and inclusive discourse of the LGBTI movement. In an increasingly complicated context in France where minorities are asked to remain discreet, it is crucial to develop new skills and practices as a means of reshaping public dialogue in years to come.

Resisting the negative impact of neutrality on LGBTI issues in the French media calls for two responses:

– to better highlight this issue

– to improve the tools and skills necessary to fight back

3. Methodology

The title of this project, “The Negative Impact of “Neutrality” on LGBTQ Issues in the French Media: Towards New Practices”, implies a double approach. I plan on pointing out the impact of neutrality in the French media on LGBTQ Issues. And, in addition, to learn from other journalists and activists new practices to counter it.

To acquire an accurate understanding of the roots of the French media’s blockages on LGBT issues, my plan is to investigate how universalism and anti communautarism resonate in the media field in France via the notion of objectivity and neutrality, and how it affects the production of information and news about minorities.

French journalists feel strongly about objectivity and neutrality. It is a common belief in French journalism schools and newsrooms that journalists should not push their gender, race, and sexual orientation to the fore. This conception described in France as “universaliste” and “anti communautaire” is not specific to journalism. It is also prevalent in politics, in universities, where no one should come out as gay, or black, in order to safeguard so-called “universal values” attached to the French Republic. Some great work has been done about the impact of such a theory in the political field. But the consequences of this conception on journalism, and consequently on the coverage of minorities, are yet to be studied. Establishing a comparison with the American context is vital to this project since France and the United States stand at opposite points concerning multiculturalism.

4. Significance

The importance of the project for the field and my country is first of all to strengthen the fight against discrimination towards LGBTs and to work for equal rights. In France, LGBT people are four times as likely to commit suicide as straight people and homophobic attacks have surged after the actions of La Manif pour tous. Moreover, on many questions of law, France is very late and discriminates against LGBT people.

Improving the media representations of the LGBT but also countering the inability of the media to criticize homophobic remarks will contribute to fight this discrimination. But more than this evidence, I would also like to point out why this project is, in the very particular political context of France and the US, important for the journalism and LGBT fields and my home country.

Importance of the project for journalists and LGBT activists

This project aims at improving things in two fields: to better the practices of journalists and the practices of LGBT activists. It turns out that the recent presidential campaign highlighted the weaknesses and failures of these two trades. Journalists have suffered deep disillusionment with their practices, due to their inability to properly cope with the new wave of fake news and alternative facts. LGBT and other French minorities, particularly Muslims, were in a passive position during the campaign. They have served as a punching ball for many candidates, with no one really interested in defending their rights.

It is particularly interesting to note that these phenomena also occurred during the last American presidential campaign. It would be very enriching to learn about the post-election strategies developed in the US by journalists and activists.

Importance for France

The core of this project is the journalistic flaws in the treatment of LGBT issues. But its working hypothesis – the media dysfunctions on the treatment of this minority are linked to the French universalist and anti-community dogma – applies to a much wider issue and refers to a set of problems currently at the heart of certain blockages, confrontations and inequalities in France. Discrimination is becoming more and more acute, and the activists and NGOs fighting against it have, for some time now, put the French universalist model at the forefront of their concerns.

Moreover, it is in the name of anti-communitarianism that the authorities try to silence and disqualify the initiatives of many NGOs. AJL has suffered from such arguments, like many other so-called community associations. What I would be able to learn for AJL will thus serve many other associations with which I am in contact, and should help to address some of the acute problems faced by the French system.

Nota Bene: I am not sure of certain translations I used, especially around the questions of universalism, anti-communitarianism, neutrality and objectivity. Analyzing the lexicon employed on both sides of the Atlantic will be an integral part of my work.

 

 

 

 

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