There were some 400,000 people on French streets this Saturday according to yellow vests supporters. 85,000 according to the Interior French Ministry, a figure up from 50,000 the previous Saturday by the official figures.
The country is on the brink of a peaceful revolution on how the social contract is designed, but if like most Brits you only hear BBC six o’clock news or Newsnight to keep up to date, you probably wouldn’t know that anything is going on in France at all.
The print media has covered the events and out of the four main national broadcasters, the smallest one, ITV, has given it reasonable airtime.
The BBC, however, appears to have gone silent on or around December 15th. That’s when a video was broadcasted from which we have taken the above screenshot. Since then, there has only been one video broadcasted by BBC where a French policeman draws a gun on a protester without shooting it.
The other main national broadcaster, Channel 4, has given no airtime whatever to the yellow vests as far as we can see from Youtube searches where they post daily their videos.
This complete silence has given rise to rumors that a d-notice has been issued probably around December 15th.
A d-notice as you may know is a sort of gentlemens agreement between the media and the government that arose in a time of war about a century ago due to “increasing concern about army and navy operations being compromised by reports in the British (and sometimes foreign) press.”
It is a fairly reasonable solution of sorts to the need for a free press on the one hand, and the need for raw national security on the other hand.
It is voluntary. The media can break the notice if it is in the public interest. A policeman drawing a gun on a protestor in Western Europe, for example, is clearly in the public interest. While where ITV is concerned, no one really watches their news anyway so they might be more willing to argue public interest and the government might be more willing to tolerate them.
A very peculiar 4chan post, however, suggests the BBC is complying. Now there are many aspects that do not check out in the statement of the anonymous poster. For starters, the post is dated December 3rd, claiming a d-notice was issued. The BBC had a yellow vests related video on the 8th of December and 15th with silence thereafter.
The post also makes some whacky claims, but if it was really a BBC employee who made the post or far more likely an intelligence officer, you’d expect some throwing off and some shaking off in an attempt to inform the clever ones while confusing the rest.
The veracity of it, anyway, is irrelevant. It has been the case that for now so many weeks on-air BBC has made no mention whatever of the yellow vests even as, by the official figures themselves, close to 100,000 showed up this Saturday.
The reason is probably because they would not like it to spread at this stage, and perhaps rightly so because it might be more useful for the elite and citizens to first see how it plays out in France.
Macron has opened a national debate today by penning a 2,300-words long letter where he says: “For me, there is no banned issue.”
Twenty questions are asked, all complex, with two of them striking at the root of the current governance system:
“Should we associate certain unelected citizens, for example chosen by lottery, to public decision-making? Should we increase the use of referendums and if so, who should be [able to trigger them]?”
It remains quite unclear how exactly this national debate is to be carried out, how the answers are to be gathered, who will read them or compile them, or how to participate.
Townhall meetings presumably, some internet website perhaps. Maybe viral memes where people answer them. There will be no referendum, however, at the end of it, at least as far as things stand currently.
Raising the question of whether this will be just a lot of talk with no useful outcome. Yet the other question is, how exactly do you get an outcome?
For yellow vesters, the danger is that this is just a distraction. A slowing down of the movement to irrelevance as talking shops take over with it then all forgot as everyone gets bored.
Yet there has been nothing more fascinating in living memory than the rise of this idea of a people’s parliament, a random jury like selection of citizens who make up one of the houses of parliament.
The idea is powerful because it is so simple and because it effectively re-instates the Ancient Greek model of democracy in an adapted modern form.
The Greek philosophers of course realized that if you are to elect the rulers, then the very rich would decide who is the ruler for they’d have the resources to fund and drive the campaigns.
They thus ruled themselves by randomly selecting one of their citizens who for some time was the then version of the President.
Compared to today, however, Athens was tiny. A small London neighborhood at best. So one can’t randomly select a ruler, but we can adapt that by randomly selecting 500 lawmakers.
The elected ones can stay where they are for a time, depending on how it works. At the same time, ordinary citizens can have a national privileged forum where they have a say and exercise real power.
So balancing far better the current checks and balances and so giving the people real representation in the law making process where the other complex 18 questions can be debated.
The main question being whether such people’s power will peacefully be given. The answer, 2019 may well provide.