06/01/2012 07:59 EDT | Updated 08/01/2012 05:12 EDT

Paris, City of Love...or Censorship?


The French aren't exactly known for their modesty. Paris, the city of lights and love, offers breathtaking views of the Eiffel Tower, and a bench-lined Seine, speckled with couples locked in passionate embrace. Where the French do traditionally practice discretion is in the media arena, at least with respect to politics.

French citizens generally prescribe to the belief that a politician's personal life ought to have no bearing on his political merit. This cultural idea is reinforced by the country's entrenched history of political censorship. While the French constitution valorizes Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité, they are confined to very specific parameters. In fact, while in France, you can even be tried or fined for publicly insulting others based on their race or origin.

Unsurprisingly, censorship of public speech extends to the media as well. In 2005, when the popular magazine Paris Matchpublished photos of Sarkozy's ex-wife, Cécilia Sarkozy, with her lover, the managing editor of the publication was ultimately fired on the orders of Sarko, then-interior minister. Unsurprisingly, Sarko's media power-playing continued into his presidency, where -- in full legality -- he stopped the publication of or halted access to a number of unflattering articles and Twitter accounts focusing on the president's personal life.

While these acts of censorship were met with some criticism, the firing of editors and the banning of articles were never overturned, as the French government and people ultimately accepted that the private life of politicians ought to be safeguarded.

However, very recently, personal politics have exploded onto the media stage, both in France and across Europe.

News surrounding the evidently steely relationship between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and new French President François Hollande has been exceedingly tongue-in-cheek. As Heather Horn notes in The Atlantic -- while Britain's the Guardian shamelessly dished details of Hollande's romantic relationship -- the "sentimentality isn't limited to English-language reports. "Once upon a time there was François and Angela," began a Proust-laden Le Monde op-ed about the French-German relationship this morning. French paper Le Figaroopted for the vaguely suggestive, 'Merkel-Hollande, the secrets of a first rendez-vous.'"

France believes its media culture to be more high-minded than the rest. Quelle surprise. Traditionally, French media has made an effort to at least tie the personal and the celebrity to more cultured, intelligent coverage. For instance, Paris Match, will often run a story about a torrid love affair juxtaposed with an article on the following page featuring an interview with French ex-president, François Mitterand.

But, for better or for worse, France has been unable to escape Americanization. McDonalds and Starbucks line the streets from Montmartre to l'Arc de Triomphe, and celebrity-driven media splashes the pages of leading publications like Le Monde.