Ten responses to untruths about French Council of State’s decision on CNews in response to RSF’s request

The French administrative supreme court’s decision, at the request of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), to ask France’s broadcasting regulator, ARCOM, to review its assessment of TV news channel CNews’ compliance with pluralism and independence requirements has elicited both manipulative reactions and legitimate questions. RSF sets the record straight.

1/ The Council of State rules, ARCOM regulates and RSF defends journalistic freedom, pluralism and independence

  RSF is an NGO whose mandate is “promoting journalistic freedom, pluralism and independence, and defending those who embody these ideals.”

  In 2021, RSF noted practices at CNews that breached the requirements of truthfulness, independence and pluralism of information that French law imposes on the country’s broadcast media. It was therefore perfectly consistent with its mandate for RSF to contact ARCOM (the Broadcasting and Digital Communication Regulatory Authority).

  ARCOM's responsibilities include “enabling the public to access a diverse audiovisual offer that respects rights and freedoms.” As ARCOM took no action, RSF referred the matter to France’s highest administrative court, the Council of State, to which decisions of the regulatory authority can be appealed.

  After more than two years of proceedings, the Council of State issued a ruling on 13 February 2024 in which it quashed ARCOM's decision (of 5 April 2022) refusing to take any action, and gave reason to RSF on the need for effective and substantive monitoring of CNews' compliance with its independence and pluralism obligations. 

2/ Claiming that RSF wanted to restrict free speech is nonsense 

  RSF’s initiative not only respects freedom of expression but also seeks to guarantee it. RSF defends journalistic freedom, independence and pluralism, the basis of freedom of opinion and expression, which presupposes the right of every citizen to access reliable news and information.

  Several of RSF’s collaborators have paid with their lives and their liberty for defending these freedoms. These accusations are therefore utterly shameless.

  International and domestic law provide for legitimate exceptions to freedom of expression, but no such exceptions are involved here. On the contrary, RSF's initiative aims to ensure that all opinions can be developed on all TV channels. It aims to expand freedom of expression.

  The French are demanding pluralism within the media. Our bus tour of France in the spring of 2022 demonstrated it. In repeated conversations with RSF in 20 cities and towns in France, the public made it clear that they wanted more diversity and depth in the debates and news reporting provided by the media. 

3/ RSF’s initiative is apolitical and expresses no preference for any editorial line 

  Our actions are strictly apolitical and non-partisan. RSF's management and staff are committed to defending the same principles throughout the world, without regard to convictions or beliefs of the journalists supported.

  RSF defends journalists of all kinds, while taking care to distinguish journalists from activists.

  RSF’s request to the Council of State about ARCOM’s failure to act in no way concerns the editorial line of CNews. RSF has no preference for one editorial line or another. It defends principles that apply to everyone.

4/ The Council of State did not call for keeping “political files” on journalists

  Neither the Council of State, nor RSF, nor ARCOM have implied that “files” should be kept on any journalists. By its decision, the Council of State requires ARCOM to develop new methods for monitoring respect for pluralism throughout the broadcast media. The Council of State does not specify the methods, nor does RSF. That is for ARCOM to decide.

5/ The Council of State says that broadcast pluralism should not be limited to counting the airtime granted to each politician. That’s what the law says. 

      Until now, only the airtime given to each politician has been used as a measure of pluralism, and even that has been done in an unsatisfactory manner. The Council of State’s decision says that “by limiting itself to taking account of the airtime granted to politicians for assessing the broadcaster's obligations in terms of information pluralism, ARCOM implemented the provisions of the law of 30 September 1986 in an incorrect manner.” This law refers to ensuring “respect for the pluralist expression of currents of thought and opinion.”

6/ The Council of State’s decision will apply to all broadcast media, both public and private

  The ruling forces ARCOM to propose ways to effectively guarantee pluralism and independence of information. But it is based on the specific case of CNews, a channel that has strayed from news reporting to offering almost nothing but opinion, in a way that illustrates the abuses resulting from a lack of effective regulation. ARCOM is therefore required to render a decision on CNews – implementing new means of regulation that will apply to all broadcast media. 

  The agreement it signed with ARCOM allows CNews to use public terrestrial airwaves while, in return, it must satisfy certain public interest requirements including internal pluralism and news reporting that is truthful and independent. 

      The Council of State asks ARCOM to propose a new decision with regard to CNews in the next six months that includes other methods for guaranteeing the independence and pluralism for which ARCOM is required to ensure respect.

      The 15 TV channel agreements that are supposed to be renewed by the start of 2025 could be affected. 

7/ Implementation of the decision must not result in an overly complex system 

      RSF does not recommend any particular system. It limits itself to pointing out the inadequacies of the current system.

      The Council of State’s public rapporteur said that “even if more extensive monitoring of respect for pluralism of schools of thought is difficult to implement, this does not justify the regulator’s refusal to enforce it.”

      The public rapporteur refers, by way of example, to studies by such academics as Julia Cagé, Nicolas Hervé, Moritz Hungel and Camille Hurvoy who propose expanding the list of identified “political personalities” (elected officials, party spokespersons and so on) to include those associated with French think tanks with a specific political leaning, the participants in the summer universities of the different political movements, and those who sign op-eds in support of election candidates.

      Hervé, the author of “Broadcast media coverage of candidates for the 2022 presidential election,” has designed a model based not just on the speaking time of the candidates but also on how often they are quoted. 

8 RSF referred only CNews to ARCOM because it embodied a mutation, one from news channel to opinion channel 

  Opinion instead of news: CNews is a case study in the mutation from news channel to opinion channel. The CNews slogan show this: “Come with your convictions, and you will form an opinion.” But, under the agreement it signed with ARCOM, CNews is supposed to be “service dedicated to information”. Journalism, as a presentation of facts, of hard news, has been almost entirely replaced by commentary. The proportion of 13% news to 87% opinion was observed on the CNews midday and evening news programmes from 31 January to 4 February 2022 by the semiologist François Jost, professor emeritus in information and communication sciences at Sorbonne Nouvelle University.

  Lack of pluralism: Pluralism has also almost entirely disappeared from the CNews studios, whose guests are mainly from the right and far-right of the political spectrum (78%, according to the same survey).

  Lack of independence: The channel’s independence is widely questioned. It is subservient to the business interests of its biggest shareholder, French billionaire Vincent Bolloré, and embodies his ideological vision, as RSF demonstrated in its “System B” investigative report. The ethical charter and ethics committee of Canal+, the group that owns CNews, fail to safeguard the principles of journalism (as the law requires) but instead attest to its circumvention.    

9/ The Don’t Look Up-style show “L’heure des Pros” on 14 February evidenced that a real debate is impossible on CNews 

  After being severely criticized on CNews and subjected to major untruths as soon as the Council of State’s decision was announced, RSF decided to try to set the record straight by delegating its secretary-general, Christophe Deloire, to appear on one of its shows.

  The way the show – “L'Heure des Pros” hosted by Pascal Praud – was conducted unfortunately confirmed all of the criticism that RSF has levelled at the channel. It was a fake interview in which no debate was permitted. The room for facts was reduced to the minimum, challenging claims was impossible, and the truthfulness of the information left much to be desired.

  The response of CNews and all of the Bolloré group’s media outlets has been excessive and disproportionate. They have even tried to compare themselves to Charlie Hebdo by means of the slogan “I am CNews.” 

10/ The decision will have an impact within six months

      The Council of State asks ARCOM to propose a new decision with regard to CNews in the next six months that includes other methods for guaranteeing the independence and pluralism for which ARCOM is required to ensure respect.

  The 15 TV channel agreements that are supposed to be renewed by the start of 2025 could be affected

24/ 180
Score : 78.72
Published on