The French Conseil d'Etat ruled against CNews and wants more progressives on TV. (Stephane Cardinale Corbis via Getty Images)


French Council of State rules tighter controls needed over CNews channel


The highest administrative court in France has ruled that the national regulator for audio-visual and digital communication (Arcom) has to tighten its control over the Conservative CNews channel, citing “its obligations in terms of pluralism and independence of information”.

CNews aims to emulate the model of the American Fox News in France and the channel is reaching all-time viewership records.

The news outlet is seen by many as a breath of fresh air in a media landscape dominated by the Left.

The NGO Reporters Without Borders disagrees and took the network to court, claiming CNews “is no longer a news channel, but has become ‘opinion media’”.

The NGO went on to criticise what it called the insufficient diversity of views expressed on the channel, particularly regarding national debates on “controversial issues”.

The court, the Council of State, decided that Arcom must “guarantee” that all French channels maintain “pluralistic expression, considering contributions from all programme participants, including columnists, hosts and guests, while respecting editorial freedom”.

Reporters Without Borders also argued that CNews was not independent and followed the directives of its main shareholder, the Conservative billionaire Vincent Bolloré, too much.

The court ruled that Acrom now has to examine all the “conditions of operation” of the channel and the “characteristics of its programming”.

The Council of State did, though, reject the NGO’s other complaints, for example, the use of talk-shows to convey news.

In the end, the Council ordered Arcom to review within six months CNews‘ compliance with its obligations in terms of pluralism and independence of information.

It did not address whether the outlet’s programmes meet pluralism and information independence standards with its decision. It outlined principles for Arcom’s oversight of all channels, emphasising the regulator’s “broad discretion in enforcing legal obligations”.

The Director General of Reporters Without Borders Christophe Deloire welcomed a “historic decision by the Council of State” for “democracy and journalism”.

“Arcom has not been up to the task”, he said afterwards, insisting on the importance of its “role in this crucial moment”, referring to the rise of so-called disinformation.

Arcom said the court had provided a renewed interpretation of the law and now “strengthens the regulator’s ability to control” all audio-visual media.

In its observations to the Council of State, CNews had argued that the 1986 law guaranteed that “publishers may freely establish an editorial line”.

Left-wing politicians refuse to attend CNews debates and even decline to answer their reporters’ enquiries, making it somewhat difficult to present the demanded pluralistic views.

News anchor Pascal Praud recently became visibly upset when talking about how hard-left politician Jean Luc Mélenchon refused daily invites to discuss issues on air.

Speaking on his show L’heure des pros, Praud added that no CNews journalists would be “intimidated”.

CNews stands for freedom of expression. I understand that the do-gooders are surprised when their monopoly falls.”

He continued: “CNews will not give in to any intimidation, CNews will not be pressured. CNews will remain independent, multifaceted and contradictory.”

Eric Ciotti, President of the centre-right Les Républicains, denounced the court’s decision as “a dangerous and worrying drift that undermines our fundamental democratic principles”.

“The supposed neutrality of some is too often only a screen for a silent cultural domination of the Left: Let’s stop the hypocrisy!” he said.

Robert Ménard, the mayor of Béziers, co-founder of the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) association, also disapproved of the verdict.

“I want to be disturbed. I want to hear things that are the opposite of what I think. That’s what freedom of expression is all about,” he stated.

Marion Maréchal, who will lead the list of Eric Zemmour in the European Parliament elections in June, said the Council of State was an “institution under Socialist control that threatens freedom of opinion”.

She further claimed that public media was “continuing with its [left-wing] activism on the taxpayers’ dime”.

On the political Left, reactions were upbeat. Green MP Sophie-Taillé-Polian said: “The Council of State has ruled in our favour,” and that therefore CNews no longer could “replace political guests with editorialists who are committed to the channel’s editorial line in order to avoid their pluralist obligation”.

Sarah Legrain, of the hard-left La France Insoumise, said CNews should now be stripped of its right to broadcast on TV.