Is the press a counter power?
Is the French press independent? No, since 80% of newspapers and major media outlets, including TV channels and radio stations, are owned by major industrialists, most of them billionaires. Only a few newspapers, such as Le Canard enchaîné and Médiapart, live off subscriptions or purchases from their readers. Do the owners influence the editorial line of the media they own? Are there checks and balances to ensure that journalists can report freely?
Les médias sont-ils indépendants ? - Décod'actu
THE FRENCH PRESS: "FREE" under Law BUT FINANCIALLY DEPENDENT
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In France, freedom of the press is guaranteed by the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. But what about its independence? The answer is more complex. Lists compiled by Le Monde Diplomatique show that almost all French press titles are in the hands of major industrialists.
Bernard Arnault, France's richest man and owner, through the LVMH group, of Les Echos, Radio classique and Le Parisien, or Patrick Drahi, owner of telecoms giant Altice, is a shareholder in Libération, L'express and BFM TV. Arnaud Lagardère owns Europe 1, RFM, le Journal du dimanche and Paris Match. Martin Bouygues, head of the construction giant, owns TF1, LCI and TMC. Xavier Niel, head of Free, and banker Matthieu Pigasse own Le Monde, Télérama, Courrier international and L'Obs via the holding company "Le monde libre", while Matthieu Pigasse controls Les Inrocks and Radio Nova. There are, of course, a few exceptions to this rule: Le Canard enchaîné, Fakir, Médiapart, Les Jours and a few others are not dependent on the financial resources of the big industrialists.
But on the whole, the press is not financially independent, and this sometimes causes problems. In 2015, Le Parisien, owned by Bernard Arnault, censored coverage of the release of the film "Merci patron", which criticized the methods of the LVMH boss. In 2015, Vincent Bolloré's group forced the deprogramming of a Spécial Investigation documentary on its Canal+ channel because it implicated Crédit Mutuel, whose boss is a close friend of his, in a tax evasion affair.
This interference by investors in the running of the media, even if extremely rare, poses a problem, and that's not all: faced with the vertiginous decline11 in sales, advertising has become an unavoidable source of revenue and therefore another way of putting pressure on the media: in 2012, for example, the various companies in the LVMH group announced that they were withdrawing their advertising operations planned between now and the end of the year from Libération. The reason: the appearance of LVMH boss Bernard Arnault on the daily's cover, accompanied by the headline "casse-toi, riche con" ("Beat it, rich prick"). Direct loss of earnings for Libération: one hundred and fifty thousand euros. So, is the press condemned to depend on financiers?
That's forgetting that there are checks and balances within the media. The conscience clause allows a journalist to leave a newsroom if there is a change in editorial line. Within editorial departments, journalists' associations known as "Société des journalistes" are responsible for ensuring that journalistic independence is respected, and are not above publicly criticizing the decisions of their shareholders.
A final example: the media are subsidized by public money. But this has never prevented them from exposing state affairs14 such as election campaign financing.