France’s Act of Censorship Embraces Fear
Sometimes it will be difficult.
On June 25, 2014, France’s Superior Council of Audiovisual Content (“CSA”) reprimanded four television channels for airing a 30-second version of Dear Future Mom (“DFM”) during commercial breaks. Created for World Down Syndrome Day, the DFM video features 15 young people diagnosed with Down syndrome. In the video, the young men and women respond to a concerned mother who has just learned her unborn child faces the same diagnosis.
One by one, speaking in different languages, the children reassure the mother-to-be that she should not fear for her child. In fact, they express and demonstrate in an emotionally powerful way that a person with Down syndrome can love, hug, work, and thrive like any other child. And, of course, the youth remind the mother-to-be that she will face difficulties like any other parent.
CSA regulates French audiovisual content to ensure that broadcasting standards are met. Also, CSA’s mission includes guaranteeing respect for human dignity and the protection of children.
In a July 2014 press release, CSA recognized that DFM has a positive view on life for people with Down syndrome. CSA stated that DFM encourages society to work for the inclusion of persons diagnosed with Down syndrome. And CSA stated that it supports and continues to support any initiatives against stigmatization of people with disabilities.
Despite its mission and its praise of DFM, CSA censored the commercial because some French citizens complained that it was disturbing. Some complained that DFM is likely to disturb the consciences of women who lawfully terminated their unborn child diagnosed with Down syndrome.
Sadly, CSA’s decision does not appear to be a departure from current French law. On November 10, 2016, France’s Council of State upheld CSA’s decision to censor DFM from French television. Council of State reviews administrative law decisions and advises France’s Executive branch of government.
In reaching its decision, Council of State affirmed that CSA followed administrative process. Furthermore, Council of State agreed that DFM: (1) is not an advertisement and (2) is easily confused as a public service announcement—making it inappropriate for commercial breaks. But Council of State agreed that DFM raises an issue of general importance and highlights a positive view of young people with Down syndrome.
I’m scared: what kind of life will my child have?
DFM is not a message of shame. Nor is it a message of condemnation. Nor a message of fear. DFM reassures a mother-to-be who already loves her child and fears for her child’s well-being. We betray mothers and children when we place them at odds with one another as CSA’s decision does.
Undoubtedly, some French mothers will struggle with DFM and those mothers must be met with compassion and love beyond that which their government has shown them. Furthermore, DFM’s potential to disturb some mothers illustrates its necessity for all mothers-to-be whose children may face a Down syndrome diagnosis.
It is almost impossible to change a nation’s perception of its most vulnerable people. It is almost impossible to raise awareness of an issue of general importance while the CSA ties one hand behind your back.
But CSA and Council of State’s decisions are an admission of the French government’s failure to protect and to promote human dignity. According to the decisions, DFM is likely to disturb the consciences of women who chose to terminate their child with Down syndrome. It stands to reason that a French mother is more likely to be disturbed by DFM if its information and message were unknown to her before she terminated her unborn child. Prompting the question, what information, if any, is provided to French women facing this gut-wrenching choice?
Mothers facing an unborn child’s Down syndrome diagnosis are likely to be fearful and confused. In some instances, French women may be shocked to learn about and to see the quality of life that their unborn child with Down syndrome may live. In fact, French women and all mothers-to-be deserve to be empowered and reassured through information sources like DFM.
There is no easy time to break the cycle of misinformation. But France must empower its mothers-to-be and allow the truth to come to light. After all, if French women are strong enough to make such a major decision as abortion then they surely are strong enough to do so with complete information. In reality, French mothers are likely to be relieved by the empowerment.
Your child can be happy. Just like I am.
CSA did not censor just any speech. CSA censored the natural manifestation of humanness. DFM’s power stems from its authenticity and who its advocates are. No, a casually dressed Leonardo DiCaprio is not laughing with someone off-camera as he informs you about the importance of voting.
Rather, DFM features 15 young, smiling, and endearing people. DFM features 15 people of various races and ages. Fifteen people who love and live despite a challenging diagnosis. DFM’s advocates are powerful because they stand for themselves. They stand for each other.
If DFM is so disturbing, then what is next for France? Why not also censor television shows with positive depictions of people diagnosed with Down syndrome? Maybe France should consider banning anyone with Down syndrome from working in a public-sector job or enjoying his or her time in a public park. If potential to disturb is sufficient cause to violate human dignity, then why not commit to the rationale?
Dear Future Mom, don’t be afraid. Your child will be able to do many things.
A Down syndrome diagnosis will alarm any mother. But, there is power in knowledge and support. Today, France continues to require its fearful mothers to make major healthcare decisions with insufficient information. France continues to silence young people diagnosed with Down syndrome. France continues to make people with disabilities expendable, second-class citizens.
As of today, over 5,000 people have signed an international petition to end the discrimination against DFM and young people with Down syndrome.
Dominic J. Donovan, J.D., is a writer and attorney practicing in Ohio.