France | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press



Freedom of the Press 2005

2005 Scores

Press Status


Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)


Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)


Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)


The constitution and governing institutions generally maintain a free and open press environment. However, in May a controversial digital economy bill was passed that includes a provision requiring Internet service providers to guarantee that the sites they host contain no "illegal content," a vague term that could lead to preventive censorship. Internet access is otherwise unrestricted. Another 2004 bill punishes homophobic statements with prison sentences, which could result in imprisonment for a press offense. In January, the senate repealed Article 36 of the 1881 press law that made it an offense to insult a foreign head of state, a provision that the European Court of Human Rights had found in violation of its convention in 2002. However, additional provisions in the new law in effect oblige journalists to respond to requisitions for information from their homes (media businesses are excluded), posing a threat to journalists' ability to protect their sources. Although the right to freedom of information exists, it can be restricted to protect the reputation or rights of a third party. The publication director of the monthly magazine Lyon Mag was indicted in May on charges of "defending a criminal act" after publication of an interview with an imam who expressed illiberal views. France's highest administrative court ordered Lebanese satellite television station Al-Manar to stop broadcasting in December as a result of anti-Semitic remarks. The watchdog group Reporters sans frontieres claimed that a freelance photographer was deliberately targeted by police when he was hit by a stun grenade while covering a protest in September.

 The French media are privately owned and largely independent of political parties. Serge Dassault, primary owner of the industrial conglomerate Dassault, bought majority shares in the media group Socpresse, which includes the national newspaper Le Figaro. In addition to further consolidating the media market, the purchase raised concern about the independence of Socpresse's publications, given that the company's defense arm depends on government contracts. Moreover, Dassault was elected to the senate in September as a member of the president's ruling party. Dassault and similarly oriented Lagardere, a French media group, now own about 70 percent of the French press. 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. Newspaper circulation has been declining, and many papers are struggling as a result. Major daily Le Monde has not fully recovered since the 2003 scandals questioning its integrity. France strictly enforces guidelines requiring 60 percent of broadcast content to be of European Union origin.