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Freedom of the Press 2008 - France

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 29 April 2008
Cite as Freedom House, Freedom of the Press 2008 - France, 29 April 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4871f60328.html [accessed 21 November 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Status: Free
Legal Environment: 6 (of 30)
Political Environment: 9 (of 40)
Economic Environment: 7 (of 30)
Total Score: 22 (of 100)
(Lower scores = freer)

The media environment remained free during 2007, but France continued to struggle to define the rights of journalists concerning the confidentiality of sources and the dissemination of information. The constitution and governing institutions support an open press environment, although certain laws limit aspects of press freedom in practice. There are strict anti-defamation laws in place that impose fines on those found guilty, and the law also punishes efforts to justify war crimes and crimes against humanity as well as incitements to discrimination and violence. Freedom of information legislation exists, but it can be restricted to protect the reputation or rights of a third party, and the majority of requests are regularly denied.

In March, France's constitutional council passed a law banning the dissemination of images that constitute offenses outlined in the criminal code, including acts of torture and other physical attacks, punishable with up to five years imprisonment and fines as high as US$110,000. Although the new law does not apply to journalists in the performance of their normal duties, free speech advocates argue that it imposes a dangerous distinction between citizen and journalist, and that it could prevent the exposure of abuses by security forces.

Furthermore, during 2007, authorities continued to pressure journalists to reveal their sources and attempted searches of media premises. On May 11, Thomas Cassuto, a judge, attempted to search the office of the satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine, to obtain information related to the Clearstream case, in which several high-ranking French political and business leaders were falsely accused to have received kickbacks from arms sales channeled through the Luxembourg bank Clearstream, including President Nicolas Sarkozy, then interior minister. Due to the presence of journalists blocking the entrance, the search was not completed (find out whether case dismissed). In July, four journalists were summoned before police authorities for covering the actions taken by the radical Regional Committee of Wine Action against two wineries on July 2 and 3. Authorities attempted to pressure these journalists to reveal the source alerting them of the action. On July 13, authorities detained the photographer Jean-Claude Elassi due to his coverage of a judicial reenactment of a murder near Paris, and seized footage he had taken of the event.

In perhaps the most serious violation of free speech during the year, on December 5, counter-terrorism authorities detained Le Monde reporter Guillaume Dasquie for 48 hours after searching his Paris apartment, pressuring him to reveal his sources. Authorities charged that earlier in the year, Dasquie published state secrets pertaining to the terrorist attacks of 2001; if convicted, Dasquie could face up to five years imprisonment and a fine over US$100,000. An antiterrorist judge filed preliminary charges on December 6, and the case was still pending at year's end.

Despite these alarming developments in France's media environment, free speech advocates scored a victory in March when a court acquitted Philippe Val, the editor-in-chief of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, of a defamation suit brought against him by several Muslim groups, in response to three depictions of the prophet Mohammed that the paper published in 2006. In addition, a suspect was arrested in Morocco in January following a confession that he had made death threats against Robert Redeker, the author of a 2006 piece in Le Figaro that was critical of Islam.

Most of France's over 100 newspapers are privately owned and not linked to political parties; however, newspaper circulation continued to decline in 2006. After the consolidation of the newspaper market in 2004, ownership is becoming more concentrated, despite the existence of an anti-media concentration law that prevents any single media group from controlling over 30 percent of press outlets. Many media outlets, however, are owned by companies with close ties to prominent politicians and the defense establishment, leading some to question potential conflicts of interest. This issue has been particularly salient following the election of President Sarkozy in May, given that several of his close associates have recently taken over positions at France's leading television network, TF1, and some of his other supporters were already in leadership positions at prominent newspapers and television stations. There is evidence that pressure from Sarkozy has already biased media content: in 2006, Sarkozy successfully pushed for the dismissal of the editor of the print tabloid Paris Match for printing photos of his then-wife Cecilia with her alleged lover. In addition, the editors of the weekly paper Journal du Dimanche received pressure from Sarkozy not to print a story alleging that Cecilia had not voted in the second round of the May presidential election; the paper is headed by one of Sarkozy's close associates, Arnaud Lagardere.

The government controls many of the firms that provide advertising revenue to media groups; it also provides direct and indirect subsidies, particularly to regional papers. The French broadcasting market continues to be dominated by TF1, although the growth of satellite and cable and the launch of digital terrestrial television in March 2005 have led to a proliferation of channels. This trend has been accentuated by the approval of the merger between two of the biggest satellite pay-TV operators, CanalSatellite and TPS. France abides by a European Union law that requires 60 percent of broadcast content to be of European origin. The internet is generally unrestricted and used by approximately 55 percent of the population; there are no reports that the government has restricted internet access or monitored email or chat rooms.

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