France

last updated: May 29, 2020
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RSF ranking: 34th out of 180 (RSF, 2020)
Population: 65.3m (Worldometer, 2020)
Percentage in the capital: 17% (11m; World Population Review, 2020)
GDP: 2,780.15bn USD (Statista, 2019)
EU member: since 1 January, 1958 (EUROPA, 2020)
Official language: French (EUROPA, 2020)
Press council: Le Conseil de déontologie journalistique et de mediation (the Council for Ethical Journalism and Mediation)

Press freedom environment: Freedom House classes France as a “free” country with a total score of 90 out of 100 (Freedom House, 2019). This score is split 38/52 for political rights and for civil liberties (Ibid.). At the time of writing, Freedom House did not have a “narrative report” for 2020, and the most recent one is from 2019. The report showed that although France has a strong tradition of democratic and personal freedoms, due to recent terrorist attacks, authorities have been given extended powers to protect citizens (the report didn’t specify how), and like in many of the DFoP countries, ethnic and racial tensions are increasing (Ibid.). The report cited several key events from 2018, notably the national “gilets jaunes” protests against fuel taxes that included violence and damage to property (Ibid.), a move cited by Amnesty International to be “extremely heavy-handed” (Amnesty International, 2018). France also saw a small but deadly attack at a Christmas market in Strasbourg (Freedom House, 2019), and President Macron received negative attention for the “Benalla affair”, where a video of a security staff member beating demonstrators surfaced, where the employee was first suspended then fired (Ibid.; see also: BBC, 2018). In the “Civil Liberties” section of the report called “Freedom of Expression and Belief”, only cited media concentration as an issue without elaborating on it (Ibid.).

Media landscape

Recent events in France have meant that journalism safety has been a factor in how well journalists are able to perform their roles, particularly in their coverage of protests and riots (RSF, 2020). Here, journalists have been subjected to anti-rioting measures by the police, as well as the ire of protesters themselves, particularly when covering the “gilets jaunes” and pension reform protests; with equipment being confiscated in some instances (Ibid.). Investigative reporters have also been “judicially harassed” with pressures to reveal sources, or have been interrogated by national intelligence agencies (Ibid.). Reporters have described covering demonstrations as similar conditions to war reporting, with the movement suspicious of the media, viewing them as supportive of government and critical of the movement’s aims (Antheaume, 2019). The movement garnered much public support, which viewed the media’s coverage of it as biased towards extremist activists, resulting in the lowering of public trust in news (Ibid.), making it second last out of 38 countries in the Reuters Digital News Report for 2019 (Newman et al., 2019: 85). Also, RT France, which is funded by the Russian government, influenced the movement by providing extensive coverage, which was shared by domestic social media users (Antheaume, 2019). The position of trust is somewhat contradictory in the French context, with television channel BFM TV ranked both the least trustworthy brand but also seeing high weekly use (Ibid.). BFM TV does not make its branding explicitly identifiable and has private security for staff reporting on location (Ibid.). Separately, Libération published a story about a Facebook group of journalists (including some from their newsroom), who engaged in misogynistic jokes and images, and instigated a debate about sexism in the workplace; the journalists were either suspended or fired (Ibid.).

A highly problematic factor in the French context is the degree of media concentration, and the degree with which media owners use their positions for influence (the report did not specify how; RSF, 2020). In tandem with this, journalists experience harassment online as well as volatile language against the media by politicians that is spurred on by trolls (Ibid.). Newsrooms are being drastically reduced, with national news agency Agence-France-Presse making moves for 100 redundancies, and weekly newspaper L’Express facing 40 redundancies (Antheaume, 2019). Public television broadcaster France Télévisions is undergoing restructuring with 2,000 redundancies, and a revised approach to attracting younger audiences (Ibid.). International companies like Netflix are seeing an increase in subscribers, and telecom company Orange is making moves to create its own programming, as well as an increasing popularity of podcasts (Ibid.).

Newspapers and market

The market in France is increasingly becoming more concentrated, albeit with an “intellectually vibrant” press that retains a degree of independence (Lardeau, 2017). Print circulation is on the decline. However, digital consumption is increasing (Ibid.). Between 1945 and 2014, newspaper titles across national, regional and local titles decreased by 58% from 179 to 76 (Ibid.). Conditions are difficult for media across the spectrum, where radio and television channels must undergo procedures addressing competition before formal agreements can be reached, and although newspaper and magazines are not under the same limitations, they face high circulation costs (Ibid.). France, however, has a government-subsidy system that has been in place since 1994, as a means of ensuring plurality and diversity in the press (Ibid.). This is not enough for many leading titles, however, who must be financially supported by the wealthy elite; an example being Le Monde (broadsheet, quality), which has been owned by three billionaires since 2010 (Pierre Bergé, Xavier Niel and Matthieu Pigasse; Ibid.).[1] The French press is not partisan. However, there are clear leanings and orientations that support ideologies, rather than parties directly (Ibid.). The French government has a stake in media ownership and is involved with the regulation of aspects of the media (Lardeau, 2017). The following are owned by the government: France TV (broadcasting company), Radio France (broadcasting group), and news channel Franceinfo (Ibid.). Regulation comes in the form of economic oversight of radio and television broadcasting (more on this below; Ibid.).

The French press is split into three categories: the national daily press, regional daily press, and weekly periodical press (Ibid.). In short, the newspaper market in France has five challenging factors to its abilities to thrive: readership and circulation are decreasing, advertising revenues are not sustainable, production and distribution are too costly, which in turn affects selling price, and many titles are reliant on state subsidies (Ibid.). The regional press is owned by four groups for each geographic region: EBRA (north-east), La Dépêche and Sud-Ouest (south-west), Ouest-France and Le Télégramme de Brest (west), La Voix (north), and Centre-France (centre; Ibid). Magazines belong to one of three groups: Lagardère, Prisma Presse and Mondadori (Ibid.). National circulation numbers for the paid press are monitored by the ACPM, a government body. The most recent figures for 2019 are below:[2]

Rank Newspaper Circulation Change since 2018
1 Le Figaro (quality) 325 938 5,31%
2 Le Monde (quality) 323 565 12,18%
3 L’Equipe (daily) 233 791 -6,44%
4 Les Echos (financial news) 130 059 0,75%
5 Aujourd’hui en France (popular) 98 694 -8,64%
6 La Croix (catholic) 87 682 0,48%
7 Libération (quality) 71 466 6,29%
8 L’Humanité (communist) 36 261 13,52%
9 The New York Times (quality) 11 697 -14,33%

Source: ACPM (2020)

Audience news consumption

The 2019 Reuters Digital News Report combines results of weekly usage across television, radio, and print, as well as online in France (Newman et al., 2019: 85). TF1 (commercial television) is at the top at 44% for tv, radio, and print, and 7% for online (Ibid.). In terms of the top four newspapers, 20 Minutes (free, daily) was at the top at 16% for online and 14% for print, unspecified regional and local newspapers were at 14% for online and 22% for print, Le Monde (quality) was at 13% for online and 8% for print, and Le Figaro (quality) was at 11% for online and 7% for print (Ibid.). The range of consumption in the report encompasses television, radio, print, and the online counterparts of these, including international brands like HuffPost, Yahoo! News, and MSN News (Ibid.).

Public service media

France Télévisions is the domestic public television broadcaster, which is funded through a licence fee and advertising (BBC, 2017b). Radio France is the domestic public radio broadcaster, followed by the international television and radio broadcaster France Médias Monde, partially-funded television channels Arte and TV5Monde, plus two parliamentary channels (de La Selle, 2018; Willsher, 2015). It should be noted that both radio and television broadcast services, regardless of whether or not they are provided by public or private entities, are regarded as “public services” (Willsher, 2015).

Public trust in the press and media

According to the 2019 Digital News Report, overall trust in French news was very low at 24%, with France ranking 37th out of the 38 countries in the study (Newman et al., 2019: 85). The most trusted sources of news are Le Monde (quality) and Le Figaro (quality), and the least trusted are Brut (online news), and BFM TV (Ibid.). On a scale of 1-10, the five most trusted newspapers starting with Le Monde at the top of the list (quality; 6.36), followed by Le Figaro (quality; 5.96), L’Express (weekly; 5.87), Le Point (weekly; 5.87) and L’Obs (weekly; 5.87; Ibid.).

In 2016, 1,027 French participants took part in Special Eurobarometer 452, titled Media pluralism and democracy (Eurobarometer, 2016). Here, 57% of participants thought that the national media represented a “diversity of views and opinions”, and 16% thought that the media were “free from political or commercial pressure” (Eurobarometer, 2016: factsheet for France). Likewise, 26% thought that public broadcasting services were free from political influence (Ibid.). General trust in media was at 34% (Ibid.), reliability in television was at 41%, radio at 62%, and newspapers (both print and online) at 58%; however, trust in social media platforms was low at 19% (Ibid.). About a third of participants were aware of regulatory bodies at 31%, with 33% thinking that they were free from political or commercial influence (Ibid.). In the study, 15% of French respondents thought that journalists, bloggers, and social media users were the targets of hate speech and abuse (Ibid.).

Online only/digital entrants

In terms of online-only brands, the Reuters Digital News Report for 2019 lists the following as the most-used sources of news “used last week”: HuffPost (10%), Yahoo! News (10%), MSN (9%), Mediapart (7%; more below), Linternaute.com (6%), Brut (6%; more below), and Aufeminin.com (6%; Newman et al., 2019: 85).

In terms of digital entrants that publish longform news stories, Mediapart is an “independent, participatory, digital newspaper”, founded by six people in 2007 (Mediapart, 2020a).[3] It is funded through a subscription model that pays into a foundation called the Foundation for a Free Press under the overarching Society for the Protection of the Independence of Mediapart (Ibid.).[4] It follows an internal code of ethics, as well as four documents: the SNJ union “charter of professional duties” (SNJ, 1938), the 1971 Munich “declaration of journalists’ rights and responsibilities” (SNJ, 1971), “L’appel de la Colline pour la liberté de la presse”, or “the call from the Hill for freedom of the press”, a document jointly drafted by Mediapart and the RSF (Mediapart and RSF, 2008), and the 2019 IFJ international code of ethics (IFJ, 2019). It runs with the slogan “Mediapart: only our readers can buy us” (Willsher, 2018).

Brut is video-format platform created in 2016, that uses social media sharing as its model, and focuses on the 18-24 age demographic (Le Monde and AFP, 2019). In late 2019, it raised €36m in order to expand into the US market (Ibid.). Platforms include YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and TikTok (Ibid.). Also in the mix is Live Magazine (Ciobanu, 2017), which is “is a living newspaper” that runs evening events where “journalists, photographers, artists — original thinkers — take the stage to tell their story in words, sounds, images, or motion” (Live Magazine, 2020).

Current studies and context

Recent data on risks to media pluralism in France refer back to 2017, showing that France has “low risks” across the board for market plurality (23%), social inclusiveness (28%), political independence (16%), and basic protection (22%; García-Graña et al., 2017: 4-12). The report highlighted several points in its summary. The first echoes the report from the RSF, regarding certain (unspecified) individual rights and freedoms being limited due to recent terror events in France, which has a long and established tradition of freedom of speech and freedom of the press (Ibid.: 13). A key recommendation from the report is the need for stronger measures on the part of government to prevent media ownership concentration in order to promote a stronger level of pluralism across the media, as well as regulatory authority for the press (Ibid.). With regard to social inclusiveness, the report cited better representation of minority groups, which are not recognised in terms of ethnicity, rather, they are acknowledged as a part of a collective French diversity (Ibid.). Lastly, the report cited a need for women to be better represented at high levels in both public and private media, such as on executive and management boards (Ibid.).

McMane (2012: 201) provided findings on a study of journalists in France as a part of book, The Global Journalist in the 21st Century. The study showed that journalists entering the profession tended to be younger, educated at university level, with slightly more females than males (Ibid.). The concentration of media ownership and precarity of jobs were concerns for the participants (n=405), and online commentary was seen as an opportunity for constructive criticism. However, although ethics were seen to comprise an important part of their work, respondents were “less unified on the notion of strengthening or changing ethical codes and adding a system for their regulation, or increasing consideration of ethics in journalism schools or establishing more ombudsmen” (Ibid.).

In terms of the current RSF rankings, France is ranked as 34th (out of 180) on the 2020 World Press Freedom Index, a drop from 32nd in 2019 (RSF, 2020). According to the 2019 Digital News Report, overall trust in France news was at 24%, with France ranking 37th out of the 38 countries in the study (Newman et al., 2019: 85).[5] Internet penetration in France is at 93% (Ibid.: 84).

Regulatory environment

The French government has economic oversight of radio and television (Lardeau, 2017). The Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel (High Council for Audiovisual) is in charge of administering radio and television frequencies (Ibid.). The Commission de la Carte d’Identité des Journalistes Professionnels (Commission for the Identity Cards of Professional Journalists) issues identity cards to journalists (Ibid.). The Commission Paritaire Nationale de l’Emploi des Journalistes (National Joint Council of Journalism Employment) monitors journalism degrees and courses as a form of recognising formal training, and recognizes 14 degrees under this scheme, where “the self-assigned power to discriminate between 14 diplomas and others strongly affects the economy of journalism education” (Ibid.). The Le Monde newspaper created an association of journalists and editors (Société des rédacteurs du Monde), which was founded in 1945 in order for employees to ensure the newspaper’s independence (McMane, 2012: 190).

The press council

The Council for Ethical Journalism and Mediation (CDJM, Le Conseil de déontologie journalistique et de médiation) was created in December 2019 with its first meeting taking place in January 2020 (Le Conseil de déontologie journalistique et de médiation, 2020d), after much debate and deliberation over a need for a press council (Lardeau, 2017; García-Graña et al., 2017: 13). The CDJM’s 47 members (at the time of writing) are made up of editors, journalists, and members of the public (Le Conseil de déontologie journalistique et de médiation, 2020d). Anyone can file a complaint online, a service that became available in February 2020, however, they cannot be in relation to editorial choices or appropriate editorial lines, and they must be submitted within three months from the publishing date (Le Conseil de déontologie journalistique et de médiation, 2020a). The CDJM is also a member of AIPCE (Le Conseil de déontologie journalistique et de médiation, 2020c), and describes itself as follows: “The Council of Journalism Ethics and Mediation (CDJM) is a body of mediation between journalists, the media, press agencies and the public for all questions related to journalism ethics” (Le Conseil de déontologie journalistique et de médiation, 2020b).[6] The CDJM does not have its own code of ethics, rather, it refers to three texts: the code of ethics from the Syndicat National des Journalistes (National Union of Journalists), the 1971 Munich Declaration of the Duties and Rights of Journalists, and the 2019 IFJ Global Charter of Ethics for Journalists (Le Conseil de déontologie journalistique et de médiation, 2020e). The Syndicat National des Journalistes (National Union of Journalists) was established in 1946 (Ibid.), and has a short code of ethics that was incorporated into the data set for the DFoP project.

Journalism culture

In the Worlds of Journalism Study for France (n=228), French participants had worked an average of 11.84 years as journalists, with a quarter of respondents working at specific desks like politics, local news, or sports (24.4%; Mercier et al., 2017). Journalists are trained, typically with an advanced university degree (82.7%), or with a specialised degree in journalism or communication studies (79.2%; Ibid.). In general, French journalists adhere to a value of factual and objective reporting (Ibid.). In the study, the categories that most participants responded to in terms of values (i.e. more than 50% responding “extremely” and “very important”) were: “Report things as they are” (96.5%), “Provide analysis of current affairs” (77.7%), “Be a detached observer” (77.6%), “Let people express their views” (72.1%), “Provide information people need to make political decisions” (67.9%), “Monitor and scrutinize political leaders” (56.1%; Ibid.: 2). With regard to professional ethics, most of the participants in the study “strongly” or “somewhat agreed” that they must respect codes of professional ethics in every instance (89.4%), and a larger number thought “what is ethical in journalism depends on the specific situation” (49.3%), as smaller number thought that “it is acceptable to set aside moral standards if extraordinary circumstances require it” (38.3%), and a small number thought that ethics came down to the individual’s judgement (23.9%; Ibid.: 3).

French journalists are not formally bound by professional organisations or codes of practice, and one does not have to have formal training to be a journalist in a professional capacity in France (Lardeau, 2017). An ethical question here also has to do with the high concentration of ownership and what role that plays in shaping media discourses on politics and public life, as well as to what degree certain outlets might be feeding into rhetoric of misinformation (Ibid.). At the same time, news rooms are being downsized as prices increase due to weak advertising revenues and high cover prices (Ibid.). On a more positive note, journalists are protected under defamation laws which mean that heads of organisations are responsible, based on the Law on the Freedom of the Press of 29 July 1881, and a “conscience clause” means that journalists can leave with benefits if they feel that an editorial line is not compatible with their own, based on the “Brachard Law” from 1935 (see Légifrance references in bibliography; McMane, 2012: 187). Additionally, they enjoy generous tax exemptions on their income (Ibid.).

Other information

Governing framework
Semi-presidential Republic (EUROPA, 2020), Republic (Comparative Constitutions Project, 2019)

Parliament
Assemblée National (lower portion of parliament)

Seats
577 (Assemblée nationale, 2020)

Last election
2017, next one: 2022

Seats held by women
40% (The World Bank, 2018)

Ruling party
La République En Marche (The Marching Republic; BBC, 2017a)

Populist party
Rassemblement National (National Rally, formerly National Front established in 1972); established in 2018 (A.P., 2018)

Origins of key minority groups
France has struggled with issues to do with integration and national cohesion, with minority groups such as Muslims and Jews being the targets of hate speech. Secularity also challenges these issues, along with increased radicalisation in Muslim minorities (Minority Rights, 2019).

Constitutional text on freedom of speech/expression/the press

  • Statutes shall guarantee the expression of diverse opinions and the equitable participation of political parties and groups in the democratic life of the Nation.
  • The law determines the rules concerning the civic rights and the fundamental guarantees granted to citizens in order for them to exercise their civil liberties; freedom, pluralism and the independence of the media… (Comparative Constitutions Project, 2019)

Media model (Hallin and Mancini, 2004: 67)
Mediterranean or Polarized Pluralist Model

Global media event
Terrorist incidents have affected France in the 1990s and more recently since the mid-2010s with the terrorist attacks at a Jewish supermarket and the Charlie Hebdo offices, the Bataclan theatre attack and attacks on commuter trains.

Key events
click here for the BBC’s recent articles on France.
click here for The Guardian’s recent articles on France.

Appendix

Media ownership list, provided by Lardeau (2017):

  • French state: TV (100 percent of France TV group + LCP, Public Sénat, France 24, TV5 Monde, 50 percent of ARTE), radio (100 percent of Radio France group + RFI, Monte Carlo Doualiya), website fr.
  • Amaury group: one TV channel (L’Equipe), five sports magazines.
  • Artémis (owned by François Pinault): three print magazines (including Le Point).
  • Bayard (100 percent owned by the Augustinians): one daily (La Croix), numerous magazines.
  • Lagardère Active (Lagardère holding run by Arnaud Lagardère): 11 TV channels (including two for kids, six for music), 3 radio stations (Europe 1 and two music stations: Virgin, RFM), 1 weekly newspaper (Le Journal du Dimanche) and 13 magazines (including Paris Match, Elle), many websites.
  • Le Figaro (held by Dassault Media): one daily (Le Figaro), many websites.
  • Le Monde group (owned by Xavier Niel and Matthieu Pigasse): one daily (Le Monde), 13 magazines (including L’Obs, Télérama, Courrier International, La Vie, Le Monde diplomatique).
  • LVMH Media (owned by Bernard Arnault): one radio station (Radio Classique), two daily newspapers (Les Echos, Le Parisien-Aujourd’hui en France), magazines (including Investir).
  • Mondadori France (held by the Italian group Fininvest managed by Silvio Berlusconi): numerous magazines.
  • RTL group (owned by Bertelsmann): TV (8 channels), radio (3 stations), print press (Prisma Presse group; 28 print magazines of travel (including Geo), business (Capital, Management, Harvard Business Review), TV, celebrity (including Gala, Voici, VSD) and 5 pure players.
  • SFR Média (Altice, owned by Patrick Drahi): 12 TV channels (including BFM TVBFM BusinessBFM Sport), three radio stations (RMCBFM BusinessRMC Sport), one daily (Libération), various print magazines.
  • TF1 (owned by Bouygues group): 9 TV channels (including TF1), online news sites.
  • Vivendi (run by Vincent Bolloré): TV group Canal+ (3 free channels and 6 payed including Canal+, free print daily press (CNews-former Direct Matin).

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[1] See the appendix for a list of key companies and their ownership.
[2] Figures for regional, weekly, free and other types of titles are also available on the ACPM website.
[3] “Mediapart est un journal d’information numérique, indépendant et participatif.”
[4] “Mediapart est totalement contrôlé par le Fonds pour une presse libre (FPL) via la Société pour la protection de l’indépendance de Mediapart (SPIM).”
[5] McMane (2002: 190-191) provides a comprehensive list of studies from the 1970s to the 2000s on journalists in France.
[6] “Le Conseil de déontologie journalistique et de médiation (CDJM) est une instance de médiation entre les journalistes, les médias, les agences de presse et les publics sur toutes les questions relatives à la déontologie journalistique”.

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