Macron government threatens to crush media rival CNews, known for airing conservative views, by revoking its broadcast license

By Olivier Bault
10 Min Read

If things go the French government’s way, in two years’ time, the CNews and C8 networks could be taken over by an oligarch who happens to be a loyalist of President Emmanuel Macron, resulting in the end of right-wing conservative opposition voices on French television.

CNews is where journalist and essayist Éric Zemmour was allowed to express his views after he was banned from several French mainstream media outlets in 2019. The network has been a major target of the extreme left and many in Macron’s government. The TV channel was watched by only 2.1 percent of French viewers at the end of 2022, which is much less than the much more politically correct news channel BFM TV, which features 3.3 percent of viewers. Apparently, for the French government, this is still too many viewers who are sometimes allowed to hear right-wing, conservative views thanks to CNews’ pluralistic approach to information and commentaries.

Now, Culture Minister Rima Abdul Malak, a French-Lebanese binational, is threatening that CNews’ license to broadcast on France’s digital terrestrial television network might not be renewed after it expires in 2025.

French Culture Minister Rima Abdul-Malak is signaling that CNews, a thorn in the side of President Emmanuel Macron, may be on the chopping block. (AP Photo/Michel Spingler)

The culture minister’s latest warning against the news channel and its sister channel C8, both parts of the Canal+ group belonging to billionaire businessman Vincent Bolloré, came about on Feb. 9 during an interview on the state-owned radio station France Inter. During that interview, Adbul Malak called on the Regulatory Authority for Audiovisual and Digital Communication, or ARCOM, which is the media authority that supervises both audiovisual and digital communication in France, to make sure, before its board decides in 2025 whether CNews and C8 should have their broadcast licenses renewed, that those news channels have lived up to all their obligations in the past.

“There are channels that have access to free broadcast frequencies in exchange for certain obligations,” the French minister said, and “these obligations are laid out in the law, they are very clear, they encompass respect for pluralism, the fact of treating judicial cases in a measured way, the fact of having debates with all points of view represented on subjects that can be controversial.”

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Abdul Malak also insisted that “there have already been some 20 interventions from ARCOM against C8 and CNews since 2019,” and she then asked: “After how many interventions will ARCOM be able to say to what degree the obligations are not respected?”

In 2022, the audiovisual regulator notably issued a warning to the C8 channel for its alleged “failures” in the treatment of the murder of Lola in the popular “Touche pas à mon poste” TV show. In 2017, the CSA, ARCOM’s predecessor, had imposed a fine of €3 million on the same show led by TV presenter Cyril Hanouna after a hoax deemed homophobic, recalls France Info, another radio station of the state-owned Radio France group.

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During the same interview, France’s culture minister also expressed the view that Hanouna’s call to privatize Radio France and France Télévision made in mid-January in his TV show on C8 was “unacceptable.” Hanouna’s call was made after Minister Abdul Malak had said in an interview in the left-wing daily newspaper Le Monde that the media authority should look carefully into how C8 and CNews will have respected their obligations before it renews their broadcast licenses.

“When the time comes, in 2025, to analyze their track record for the renewal of their broadcasting licenses,” the culture minister then said, “ARCOM will be able to see how they have complied with these obligations.”

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In the same January interview for Le Monde, she also reproached Cyril Hanouna for having demanded during his show a quick trial and a life sentence for Lola’s murderer, which seemed to be one of her motives for questioning the TV channel’s broadcast license. Lola, a 12-year-old girl, was brutally tortured, raped, and murdered last October by an Algerian woman without a valid residence permit, who had been let free by French authorities while she was in breach of a deportation order.

The minister’s thinly-veiled threats against CNews and C8 have gathered applause from some far-left commentators such as MP Aymeric Caron, a member of the left-wing alliance NUPES, leader (and only MP) of the anti-speciesist green party Ecological Revolution for the Living (REV), and former radio and television journalist, who tweeted on Feb. 9, reacting to the Culture minister’s interview on France Inter: “One of the obligations of CNews is to broadcast information. However, this channel has become an opinion channel of the extreme right, on which ‘religious’ debates about evil fighting good are broadcast. ARCOM must withdraw the frequencies allocated to Bolloré.”

Roch-Olivier Maistre, the head of ARCOM, is described as “Macron-compatible” and docile by the French Observatory of Journalism, and the institution, which used to be named CSA, has a record of enforcing the will of the political majority who appoint its members. Maistre himself was appointed by Macron. Six other members were appointed by the speakers of both houses of Parliament, one by the Council of State, France’s top administrative court with very close links to the executive power, and one by the Court of Cassation.

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So Vincent Bolloré, an atypical French billionaire businessman who has never made a secret of his closeness to traditionalist Catholic circles, has good reasons to take the government’s threats very seriously.

Hence the strong reaction from Canal+, the TV group that owns CNews and C8, which addressed the issue in a press release published on Feb. 9, shortly after the minister’s repeated threats:

“We were deeply shocked by the remarks made by the Minister of Culture, Rima Abdul Malak, this morning on the morning show of France Inter. Nearly five minutes of her speech were devoted to criticism of our Group and invective against our channels C8 and CNews. By suggesting once again that our channels’ licenses do not deserve to be renewed in 2025, even though she refuses to comment on the renewal procedure of other audiovisual media outlets, the minister is taking sides, stepping out of her reserve, and not respecting the independence of our sector regulator.”

Canal+ is a branch of the Vivendi group belonging to Vincent Boloré.

In France, most of the main media outlets are owned by wealthy shareholders. TF1 is owned by Martin Bouygues, BFM TV by Patrick Drahi, Le Figaro by the Dassault family, Le Monde by the Niel-Pigasse-Kretínský trio, Le Point by François Pinault. Left-wing Libération was for a long time owned by Édouard de Rothschild and then by Patrick Drahi.

“Curiously, however, only Vincent Bolloré’s investment seems to raise questions,” wrote Valeurs Actuelles, the only French right-wing conservative weekly, on Feb. 10. “If the channel ruffles its critics’ feathers so much, it is because it has found a niche to differentiate itself from the competition. More opinions, more debates, and a treatment of information that puts more emphasis on the news have given it a different tone from its competitors, allowing it to federate a loyal audience, at the risk of being presented at length as “‘he TV of permanent (debate) clash’ or ‘the channel of the extreme right.’”

If things go the French government’s way, in two years’ time CNews’ and C8 broadcast licenses’ could be taken over by Xavier Niel according to the Observatory of Journalism. Xavier Niel is another French media tycoon and a known supporter of President Emmanuel Macron.

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