Executive Dean of Sciences Po Journalism School
A youthful wind blows in France under the presidency of 40-year-old Emmanuel Macron. He and his government have big media targets: they intend to introduce an anti-fake news law and also reform the state-owned broadcaster.
During the 2017 presidential election, online and TV were equally popular. But in 2018, TV regained a slight lead as the most important source of news. Even TF1, the most watched channel in France, is suffering from new competition and more on-demand viewing. It has been demanding several million euros in satellite distribution fees from telecoms giant Orange (which provides connected TV to 11m French households), Canal+ (6m), and Free (5.5m). The three companies said they were shocked since TF1 is free to watch. Canal+, part of Vivendi, responded by cutting the signal for almost a week. TF1’s audience figures fell immediately and the channel was overtaken for a while by its main competitor France 2, part of the state-owned France Télévisions.
But France Télévisions is caught in another storm. Together with Radio France and the international facing France Médias Monde (which in turn includes France 24 TV and RFI radio), it forms the largest part of the fragmented French public service broadcasting landscape and has been strongly criticised by President Macron. He has made no secret of his desire to see reforms to management, reductions in costs, improved programmes, and increased multimedia integration. The BBC seems to be his model, with its international reach and multi-platform capabilities. In truth, France Télévisions, Radio France, and France Médias Monde are not well integrated, with the exception of franceinfo. Created in 1987 as a breaking news radio service, it expanded last year to become an integrated news outlet across radio, a new TV news channel, and incorporating the mobile news service formerly called France TV Info, and is doing well online (now third in our rankings).
On top of all that, Mathieu Gallet, CEO of Radio France, had to leave his role after being convicted of corruption, with his successor, Sibyle Veil, an internal candidate, appointed in April. Meanwhile there are suggestions that a reformed public service structure might include an overall CEO sitting above the existing chief executives of each entity.
CNews, a live TV channel owned by Canal+, saw its influence wane after a long-running strike led to the departure of the editorial team. Rival networks LCI, part of the TF1 group, and market leader BFM TV shared the spoils.
One of the most talked about media initiatives of the year was the launch of Le Media, a partisan digital operation. Set up by people behind leftist politician Jean-Luc Mélenchon, it made a significant impact, riding on a wave of distrust against legacy media. But several key people left and aired their criticisms via the traditional media they had previously denounced.
Newspapers continue to struggle with declining circulation and advertising revenues but some attempts to charge for online content are beginning to pay off. Le Monde returned its first operating profit for many years with a 44% increase in digital subscriptions, which have overtaken print subscriptions for the first time.1
A number of printed magazines were launched in the last year: Vraiment (general news), Dr Good (health), Miaou (cat news), Perma Gaia (environmentalism). One ad-free current affairs weekly, Ebdo, closed just two months after launch. It had published allegations of sexual crimes against a government minister, which led to an investor backing out.
Meanwhile, Emmanuel Macron has pledged to introduce a new law to fight the spread of fake news, which he says threatens liberal democracies. The law could ban false stories from social media platforms, particularly during French elections and include more transparency about sponsored content. Macron himself had been the target of a number of fake news allegations distributed online during the presidential election campaign.
Mediapart, a subscription-based investigative and online web publication with 140,000 subscribers, marked its tenth anniversary in April 2018 on the day that former President Nicolas Sarkozy was taken into custody over allegations that former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi had funded his 2007 election campaign. Those allegations had first been published by Mediapart six years earlier, in 2012.
Many podcasts have been launched, most addressing a niche: La Poudre (for girls), Transferts (testimonies), Les Plants (gardening), Entre (about a girl starting high school), and many others — a new way of exploring audio journalism on mobile.
The printed newspaper and news magazine sector remains in crisis with readership halving in the last six years (46% to 20%), but many former newspapers (Le Monde, Le Figaro) are leading the charge online. TV news remains important but viewership continues to fall year by year.
Trust in news in France is low (35%) compared with other European countries. Last year, saw a major debate about the role of the platforms, especially Facebook, which is the most used social media for news in France, in spreading contents and disseminating fake news. This helps to explain why trust in social media is lower still (19%).