Freedom of the Press
Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
The media environment remained free, but France continued to struggle to define the rights of journalists concerning confidential sources and court documents, as well as dealing with freedom of expression issues surrounding the country’s growing Muslim population. The constitution and governing institutions support an open press environment. The law provides for freedom of speech and of the press, although a law adopted in October makes it a crime to deny the Armenian genocide. 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.
Cases of formal questioning of journalists, searches of media premises, and the courts’ tendency to put pressure on journalists to reveal their sources all continued to be prominent issues in 2006. In June, the minister of justice proposed that the protection of journalistic sources be written into the country’s Press Law. However, less than a month later police raided the daily Midi Libre in order to obtain confidential information about a regional council; an official investigation was launched into the incident, but it remained open at year’s end. Also in contravention of the government’s promises to amend the Press Law, two reporters with the independent daily L’Equipe were formally placed under investigation for “helping to violate the confidentiality of a judicial investigation.” The two journalists had originally published an investigative report concerning the alleged doping of a cycling team that the courts had been investigating in 2005. In addition, in late October the Office of the Public Prosecutor announced its intention to investigate Denis Robert, a former journalist with Liberation, for the “possession of confidential material” and libel of the finance house Clearstream. Robert, who is also the author of two investigative-reporting books on Clearstream implicating a number of high-ranking government officials of fraud, was found guilty of libel in December.
French courts have increasingly been applying Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects freedom of expression. In November, for example, charges were dropped against both a lawyer accused of revealing details of a judicial investigation into alleged corruption in school meal contracts and the journalist who had been accused of abetting him. In this case, the court disregarded Article 38 of the domestic Press Law, which states that “it is forbidden to publish indictments or any other criminal procedural document,” and chose instead to refer to Article 10 of the convention. In July, also citing the convention, the Supreme Court struck down a judgment that convicted Le Monde journalists of racial defamation for a 2002 article criticizing Israel.
Cases of physical threats or harassment are rare. However, in February, after the daily France-Soir republished the Danish Muhammad cartoons that sparked an international furor, the paper became the victim of a bomb hoax and the editor in chief was forced to resign. Also, a high school philosophy teacher went into hiding after receiving death threats from radical Islamists because of an opinion piece he wrote in Le Figaro criticizing the prophet Muhammad.
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 2004’s consolidation of the newspaper market, ownership is becoming more concentrated. Many media outlets are owned by companies with close ties to prominent politicians and the defense establishment, leading some to question potential conflicts of interest. In May, the prime minister called for increased investment in newspapers to maintain their financial viability as well as tax reductions for newspaper producers, also intended to help ease the financial burden. 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 50 percent of the population. However, in 2006 a court decided to open an investigation against the editor of a left-wing website in response to a libel suit over a controversial union press release that he had posted. The case was unresolved at year’s end, but if the court rules against the editor, the website may be forced to close.