Pluralism and independence: Arcom must re-examine compliance with its obligations by CNews

Décision de justice
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Ruling on a matter brought before it by the organisation Reporters sans frontières, the Conseil d’État found that to assess compliance by a television channel with pluralism of information, Arcom must take account of the diversity of thought and opinion represented by all the participants in its broadcasts, including commentators, anchors and guests, and not merely the airtime granted to political figures. The Conseil d’État also found that Arcom must ensure independence of information within a channel by taking account of all its operating conditions and the characteristics of its programming, and not merely from extracts of a particular programme. Having failed to examine all these aspects, Arcom must review its decision not to take action against CNews within six months, taking account of the clarifications made by the Conseil d’État on the scope of the legal obligations.

The law of 30 September 1986 on freedom of communication requires television channels to ensure that information is fair, pluralistic and independent, and makes the audiovisual and digital communication regulation authority (Arcom) accountable for compliance with these obligations by television channels. Believing that CNews did not fulfil these obligations, the organisation Reporters sans frontières asked Arcom to put the channel on notice to fulfil them. Following the refusal by Arcom to examine their request, Reporters sans frontières brought the matter before the Conseil d’État.

In its decision of 13 February 2024, the Conseil d’État first dismissed the general criticisms by Reporters sans frontières of the French legal framework, in view of both the French constitution and the European convention for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Pluralism of information is not limited to airtime granted to political figures

The organisation then criticised the insufficient diversity of viewpoints expressed on CNews, particularly in debates on controversial issues. In response, Arcom believed that it was only required to consider the balance of airtime granted to political figures while assessing compliance with pluralism of information and concluded that the complaint from the organisation did not demonstrate failure by CNews to fulfil its obligations in this area.

However, the Conseil d’État found that for the law to be the applied, Arcom must not limit itself to counting the airtime time taken up by political figures. According to procedures that it will be responsible for defining, Arcom must ensure that channels guarantee, within the framework of their editorial freedom, the expression of diversity of thought and opinion based on the contributions of all participants in their broadcasts, including commentators, anchors and guests.

Independence should be assessed in view of all the operating conditions of a channel and the characteristics of its programmes

Reporters sans frontières also pointed out that CNews failed to comply with its obligation of independence of information due to the interventions of its majority shareholder. Arcom had replied that it could only take a view on this issue based on specific examples, in given extracts, which the organisation had failed to provide. However, the Conseil d’État found that independence should not only assessed with regard to extracts from a specific programme, but also based on all the operating conditions of the channel and the characteristics of its programmes. Arcom must, therefore, reconsider the request by carrying out this examination.

On the other hand, the Conseil d’État set aside the arguments of Reporters sans frontières in the other disputed points. It found that the place of debates in the programming of CNews does not call into question its format as a news service. Regarding the extracts identified by Reporters sans frontières as not complying with honest information, the Conseil d’État pointed out that, depending on the case,  Arcom had already given the channel notice or that the evidence provided by the organisation was inadequate.

On these grounds, the Conseil d’État ordered Arcom to review compliance by the channel CNews with its obligations in the area of pluralism and independence of information within six months.

With this decision, the Conseil d’État does not take a position on whether the programmes of CNews comply with the requirements for pluralism and independence of information. It sets out the principles applicable to the control to be exercised by Arcom on compliance with their legal obligations by all channels, and restates that in accordance with those principles, the regulator has wide powers of assessment in the exercise of its prerogatives under the law.


Read the decision (in French)