France | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

France

France

Freedom of the Press 2006

2006 Scores

Press Status

Free

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

21

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

9

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

7

The constitution and governing institutions support an open press environment. The law provides for freedom of speech and of the press and for public access to government information, and prohibits arbitrary interference with privacy. The government generally respects these rights in practice. Although the right to freedom of information exists, it can be restricted to protect the reputation or rights of a third party. The continued increase of formal questioning of journalists, searches of media premises, seizure of documents, and the introduction of legislation establishing new press offenses have caused concern. Further "powers of requisition" have been granted to police, state prosecutors, and examining magistrates. Although prison terms for most press offenses have been abolished, new rules (punishable by prison sentences) against defaming or insulting people because of their sex or sexual orientation were introduced in addition to the pre-existing crimes of incitement to racism and anti-Semitism, for which foreigners can be deported. The ruling in the appeal case of Le Monde journalists who were found guilty of "racial defamation" for anti-Semitic content is expected in early 2006. The authors had been ordered to pay the nominal sum of $1.20 each in damages for publishing an article entitled "Israel-Palestine: The Cancer."

Although confidentiality of journalists' sources is recognized by Article 109-2 of the code of criminal procedure, the courts tend to put pressure on journalists to reveal their sources. In May 2005, without prior notification, plainclothes police officers in Orleans interrogated two journalists from the daily Le Berry Republicain in an attempt to get them to reveal their sources for their reports about a murder investigation. In October, five journalists with Le Point and L'Equipe were placed under investigation. The Paris offices of the weekly Le Point were searched in a probe into the "violation of the confidentiality of an investigation" involving an alleged cycling doping scandal, while a virtually simultaneous search was carried out at the offices of the sports daily L'Equipe.

In November, concerns about restrictions on press coverage arose when a 12-day state of emergency and nighttime curfews to curb street violence were imposed in major cities. Three weeks of social unrest that began in the poor immigrant suburbs of Paris spread to nearly 300 communities across the country. A number of French and foreign journalists were injured while covering the riots. Following the riots, a High Council for Integration was set up to monitor integration issues and suggested not mentioning the ethnic origin of individuals in the news when it is not pertinent information. Publications have long been associated with causes and political parties; however, the blatant support for a "yes" on the European Constitution across the French press raised questions about whether publications are delivering unbiased information to readers.

Most of France's over 100 newspapers are privately owned and are not linked to political parties. Serge Dassault's 2004 move to buy majority shares in the media group Socpresse, which includes the national newspaper Le Figaro, further consolidated the media market. It also raised concerns about the independence of the publications, given that Dassault is an elected member of the president's ruling party and that the company's defense arm depends on government contracts. 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.

The French broadcasting system is unique because of channel TF1's dominant position, although the growth of satellite and cable and the launch of digital terrestrial television in March have led to a proliferation of channels. France strictly enforces guidelines requiring 60 percent of broadcast content to be of European Union origin. On December 7, 2005, France's highest administrative court was to review an appeal by Lebanese television station Al-Manar contesting the cancellation of its broadcast agreement with the country's broadcast regulator. Al-Manar had been prohibited from broadcasting on the Eutelsat satellite for a year owing to anti-Semitic remarks made on the Lebanese station. The controversial digital economy bill passed in 2004 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. In June, a Paris court ordered internet service providers to block from French users the website of the revisionist Holocaust denying organization the Association of Former Connoisseurs of War and Holocaust Stories. Internet access is otherwise unrestricted for the 43 percent of the population with access in 2005.