French billboard owner fined €10,000 for depicting Macron as Hitler

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Poster by Michel-Ange Flori Depicting Macron as Hitler

Has France just trampled on Article 10: Freedom of expression protects your right to hold your own opinions and to express them freely without government interference.

A French court on Friday sentenced a billboard owner to a €10,000 fine after he depicted President Emmanuel Macron as Adolf Hitler on a poster to protest COVID measures.

In July Michel-Ange Flori Tweeted: “So in Macronia you can make fun of the prophet’s ass, that’s satire, but to make the president look like a dictator is blasphemy”.

The offending poster portrays Macron in the uniform of the Nazi leader Hitler, with a small moustache, a lock on his forehead and the acronym of the presidential movement LREM turned into a swastika. A message reads: “Obey, get vaccinated.”

It was shown in recent days on two billboards measuring four meters by three meters located on a four-lane road near the entrance to Toulon. Someone had written “Shame” over one of them.

After being fined Michel-Ange Flori said on Twitter after the ruling by the court in Toulon, southern France, that he will appeal.

“I can’t believe it,” he wrote. “The right to caricature was buried today in Toulon.”

Michel-Ange Flori, the owner of a French street advertising business, decided to use some of his billboards for what he called an exercise in political satire: posting a picture showing President Emmanuel Macron dressed like Adolf Hitler.

On seeing these images Macron’s personal lawyers and his party filed legal complaints alleging that the depictions were a public insult.

The result was for Michel-Ange Flori a €10,000 fine. It seems some expressions are far more offensive to Macron than others.

You can understand the indignation Michel-Ange Flori when you look at what macron has had to say in the past about freedom of expression.

The French government is not the champion of free speech that it likes to think it is. In 2019, a court convicted two men for ‘contempt’ after they burnt an effigy depicting President Macron during a peaceful protest.

There are fine lines and the line Macron drew in the sand was to uphold the right of expression, well as long as your expressions are not detrimental to him.

In 2020 The president defended citizens’ right to freedom of speech, talking of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, the target of a massacre by gunmen in 2015, after printing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, Macron extolled the virtues of democracy and freedom of speech as he said:

“It’s never the place of a president of the Republic to pass judgment on the editorial choice of a journalist or newsroom, never. Because we have freedom of the press.”

“There is in France a freedom to blaspheme which is attached to the freedom of conscience. I am here to protect all these freedoms. In France, one can criticize a president, governors, blaspheme,” he said.

“We will not give up on cartoons and drawings, even if others back down,” Macron said on Oct. 21 last year in a speech to honour school teacher Samuel Paty, who was killed by a Chechen teenager who wanted to avenge Paty’s use of the cartoons in a class on freedom of expression.

Flori put up the Macron billboards in response to a law adopted by parliament this month barring people from some public venues unless they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or can show a fresh negative test.

The case turned into a test of where France draws the line between freedom of expression and being offensive.

The right to freedom of expression “shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers,” as promulgated by Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights. 

The right’s purpose was conceptualised in the most often cited Voltaire quotation where he is incorrectly credited with writing, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” although not his words, but rather those of Evelyn Beatrice Hall, written under the pseudonym S. G. Tallentyre in her 1906 biographical book The Friends of Voltaire, the meaning is absolute, while point being whoever said it, Freedom of expression is unquestionably essential for the function of a democratic society as well as societal progress and development.

Article 10 protects your right to hold your own opinions

Article 10 protects your right to hold your own opinions and to express them freely without government interference.

This includes the right to express your views aloud (for example through public protest and demonstrations) or through:

  • published articles, books or leaflets
  • television or radio broadcasting
  • works of art
  • the internet and social media
“The comfort of the rich depends upon an abundant supply of the poor.” Voltaire

Some of Macron’s opponents say the rules trample on civil liberties and accuse the president of acting like a dictator; the administration argues that it needs to encourage greater vaccination rates.

Flori, whose billboards were posted around his home region in the south of France, said the consensus in his country was on the side of Charlie Hebdo.

Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine published caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad, originally in 2006, that most Muslims view as blasphemous. The French state defended the magazine’s right to publish.

“But when it is a matter of making fun of the president by depicting him as a dictator, then it becomes blasphemy, then it is unacceptable,” he said in an interview with Reuters, mimicking his critics.

Jean Ennochi, a lawyer for Macron, said the legal complaint was filed for Macron in a personal capacity “because of the offensive nature of the comparison of the President of the Republic with Adolf Hitler”.

Since being sued, Flori has unveiled two new posters of Macron likening him to Louis XVI, France’s last monarch executed by guillotine, and Marshal Pétain, who negotiated France’s capitulation to Hitler in 1940 and led a government that collaborated with the Nazi regime.

Flori’s lawyer, Béranger Tourné, said after the ruling that “the right to caricature has been violated”.

“The president, so quick to defend freedom of expression (…) considers that it stops at his own august person,” he added.

The offence of “insulting the president of the Republic” was repealed in 2013 after a European Court of Human Rights ruling condemning France, but the head of state is protected from insult and public defamation like any ordinary citizen, even if prosecutions, sometimes perceived as an attack on freedom of expression, are rare.

The French newspaper Le Monde faced massive criticism after it published a very provocative cover of French President Emmanuel Macron for the M magazine.

Le Monde apologizes for the cover.  The editorial office was accused of comparing Macron to Hitler

Of course, it’s not the first time Macron has been compared to Hitler. In 2018 Le Monde apologised for the cover of its Saturday M magazine when the editorial office was accused of comparing Macron to Hitler.

French newspaper Le Monde apologized to its readers two days after publishing a cover featuring embattled French President Emmanuel Macron that many critics said bore a stark resemblance to a 2017 Harper’s Magazine cover with German dictator Adolf Hitler.

Editors were forced to publish an apology for the cover which contained a black and white photograph of Macron with an image of the protesters “yellow vest” in front of the Arc de Triomphe. The figure of Macron is surrounded by streaks of deep red, and the M is written in Gothic letters. The headline reads: “From Inauguration to Yellow Vests – Champs Elysees – Macron’s Theater of Power.”

Many readers noticed similarities to a Harper’s Magazine cover from July 2017 that showed a black-and-white photo of Hitler and a crowd of people giving the Nazi salute. The font of the letter “M” on Saturday’s magazine cover was also compared to the Nazi swastika. Both covers also featured the colour red — in a large Nazi flag behind Hitler and two large stripes behind Macron.

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