The French lower house of Parliament on Thursday approved a law banning discrimination based on a person’s accent, calling the practice “a form of racism”.
The text, overwhelmingly adopted by 98 votes to three, adds accents to the list of causes of actionable discrimination, along with racism, sexism and discrimination against the disabled.
The maximum penalty proposed in the new legislation is three years’ imprisonment and a fine of €45,000.
The law, proposed by centre-right deputy Christophe Euzet, was the subject of animated debate in the house, despite the overwhelming vote.
“At a time when the ‘visible’ minorities benefit from the legitimate attention of public authorities, the ‘audible’ minorities are the main forgotten people of the social contract based on equality,” Euzet argued.
Maina Sage, deputy for French Polynesia, spoke of the difficulties that can be encountered by people, like her, speaking with an accent from outside the French mainland.
Patricia Miralles, the daughter of North Africans, spoke of the “mockery” that she encountered in her younger days over her Algerian accent, which she briefly reprised in the parliamentary chamber.
Other members of Parliament denounced the fact that too many broadcasters with a strong accent get pigeonholed into reporting on rugby or reading the weather bulletin.
On the other hand, Jean Lassalle, of the opposition Libertes et territoires party which includes Corsican nationalists, voted against the text.
“I’m not asking for charity, I’m not demanding to be protected because I am who I am,” he said in his strong southwest France accent.
Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti, a former lawyer, said he was “very convinced” about the need for the new law.
Last month Jean-Luc Melenchon, leader of the far-left France Insoumise (France Unbowed) movement, was caught on camera being rude to a journalist with a southern accent who asked him a question at the National Assembly.
“Can someone ask me a question in French? And (make it) a bit more understandable…,” Melenchon said then, addressing a group of reporters in a video clip which was widely circulated on social media.