France | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press



Freedom of the Press 2008

2008 Scores

Press Status


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


Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)


Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)


The media environment remained free during 2007, but France continued to struggle to define the rights of journalists, especially those concerning the confidentiality of sources and the dissemination of information. The constitution and governing institutions support an open press environment, although certain laws, like the 1990 Gayssot law against Holocaust denial, limit aspects of press freedom in practice. There are strict antidefamation laws in place with fines for those found guilty; 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 there are exceptions to protect the reputation or rights of a third party, and the majority of requests are 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 citizens and journalists and that it could prevent the exposure of abuses by security forces, particularly over the internet. Separately, free speech advocates scored a legal victory in March when a court acquitted Philippe Val, editor in chief of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, of a defamation suit brought against him by several Muslim groups. The suit was initially filed in response to three depictions of the prophet Muhammad that the paper had published in 2006.

Throughout 2007, authorities detained journalists to try to pressure them into revealing their sources and attempted to search media houses and personal premises for documents and sources. On May 11, Justice Thomas Cassuto tried to have the office of the satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine searched in order to obtain information related to the Clearstream case, in which several high-ranking French political and business leaders—most notably President Nicolas Sarkozy, then interior minister—were falsely accused of having received kickbacks from arms sales channeled through the Luxembourg bank Clearstream. Owing to the presence of journalists blocking the entrance, the search was never completed, and the case was closed in September without formal charges being made against any of the journalists. In July, four journalists were summoned before police authorities after covering the actions taken by a group of radical wine producers, the Regional Committee of Wine Action, against two wineries on July 2 and 3. The police wanted the journalists to reveal the source that alerted them to the action. Separately, on July 13, authorities detained photographer Jean-Claude Elassi as he was covering 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, counterterrorism authorities detained Le Monde reporter Guillaume Dasquie for 48 hours on December 5 after searching his Paris apartment and tried to make him reveal his sources. An antiterrorism judge charged that earlier in the year, Dasquie had published state secrets pertaining to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. If convicted, Dasquie could face up to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of over US$100,000. The case was still pending at year’s end.

Most of France’s over 100 newspapers are privately owned and not linked directly to political parties. However, newspaper circulation continued to decline. Following the 2004 consolidation of the newspaper market, ownership has become even more concentrated, despite the existence of a law that prevents any single media group from controlling over 30 percent of press outlets. Many media outlets—print as well as broadcast—are owned by companies with close ties to prominent politicians and the defense establishment. This issue was particularly pertinent following the May 2007 election of Nicolas Sarkozy as president, 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 some evidence that pressure from Sarkozy had already begun to influence media content: In 2006, Sarkozy pushed successfully for the dismissal of the editor of the tabloid Paris Match for printing photos of his then wife, Cecilia, with her alleged lover. In addition, the editors of the Journal du Dimanche—a weekly paper headed by Arnaud Lagardere, a close Sarkozy associate—were under pressure from Sarkozy to refrain from running a story alleging that Cecilia had not voted in the second round of the presidential election.

The government controls many of the firms that supply advertising revenue to media groups, and an independently administered fund provides some public subsidies to media outlets, particularly regional newspapers. The French broadcasting market continued 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 used by approximately 55 percent of the population; there are no reports that the government has restricted internet access or monitored e-mail or chat rooms.