Requested by the Reporters Without Borders association, the Council of State judges that, to assess the respect by a television channel, whatever it may be, of the pluralism of information, Arcom must take into account the diversity of currents of thought and opinions represented by all participants in broadcast programs, including columnists, hosts and guests, and not just the speaking time of political figures. The Council of State also judges that Arcom must ensure the independence of information within the channel by taking into account all of its operating conditions and the characteristics of its programming, and not only from the sequence of an extract from a particular program. Failing to have examined all these aspects, Arcom will have to re-examine within 6 months the request for formal notice against CNews, made by the association, taking into account the details provided by the Council of State on the scope of the obligations provided for by law.
The law of September 30, 1986 relating to freedom of communication requires television channels to ensure honesty, pluralism and independence of information and creates the Regulatory Authority for Audiovisual and Digital Communication (Arcom ) the guarantor of compliance by the channels with these obligations. Believing that CNews did not respect these requirements, the Reporters Without Borders association asked Arcom to put this channel on notice to respect them. Faced with Arcom’s refusal to issue such a formal notice, Reporters Without Borders appealed to the Council of State.
By its decision of February 13, 2024, the Council of State first dismisses the general criticisms addressed by Reporters Without Borders to the French legislative framework with regard to both the Constitution and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and fundamental liberties.
Information pluralism is not limited to the speaking time of political figures
The association then criticized the insufficient diversity of points of view expressed on CNews, particularly during debates on controversial issues. Faced with this criticism, Arcom considered that it should only take into account, to assess respect for information pluralism, the balance of speaking time granted to political figures, and it concluded that the complaint of the association did not make it possible to highlight a failure by CNews to fulfill its obligations in this area.
However, the Council of State judges that, to ensure the application of the law, Arcom must not limit itself to counting the speaking times of political figures. Following the modalities that it is up to it to define, Arcom must ensure that the channels ensure, while respecting their editorial freedom, the pluralistic expression of currents of thought and opinions, taking into account the interventions of the all participants in broadcast programs, including columnists, hosts and guests.
The independence of information is assessed in light of all the operating conditions of a channel and the characteristics of its programming
The Reporters Without Borders association also argued that CNews was not respecting its obligation of independence of information due to the interventions of its main shareholder. Arcom replied that it could only comment on this question on the basis of specific examples, in given sequences, which the association did not provide. The Council of State judges, however, that independence is not only assessed with regard to extracts from a specific program but also on the scale of all the operating conditions of the channel and the characteristics of its programming. . It is therefore up to Arcom to decide again by carrying out this examination.
The Council of State, however, rejected the argument of Reporters Without Borders on the other points in dispute. He considered that the place of debate shows in CNews’ programming does not call into question its service format devoted to information. Regarding the sequences pointed out by Reporters Without Borders as lacking in honesty of information, the Council of State noted, depending on the case, that Arcom had already sent warnings to the channel or that the The elements provided by the association were insufficient.
For these reasons, the Council of State orders Arcom to re-examine within six months the compliance by the CNews channel with its obligations in terms of pluralism and independence of information.
With this decision, the Council of State does not comment on whether the programs of the CNews channel comply with the requirements of pluralism and independence of information. It specifies the principles applicable to the control that Arcom must exercise over compliance with their legal obligations by all channels and recalls that, in compliance with these principles, the regulator has broad discretion in the exercise of the prerogatives conferred upon it by law.
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