By Mathieu Pollet
(EurActiv) — The state of media ownership concentration in France, how the situation evolved, and what lessons can be drawn will be analysed by a new commission of inquiry established by the French Senate on Thursday (18 November).
The list of 21 senators who will partake in the new commission was also announced, with Socialist Senator David Assouline as rapporteur.
According to the explanatory memorandum, lawmakers are tasked with “shedding light on the conditions of purchase and consolidation that have led to this highly concentrated press and audiovisual landscape.”
The request was formally tabled on 27 October by the Socialist Group in Senate, which decided to make use of its annual right to demand the creation of a committee of inquiry or a mission of information.
The committee of inquiry is one of the tools of parliamentary control, and those called to provide testimony must respond to the summons of the legislators. They are also heard under oath, meaning they risk perjury in the event of false testimony.
According to the senators, “the political and general information press is now in the hands of a small number of businessmen and companies whose main activity is often far removed from the world of information and its principles.”
They cite the Altice group, founded and currently owned by Patrick Drahi, who also owns newspapers Libération, l’Express, broadcaster BFM TV, and radio station RMC. The senators noted Xavier Niel, who owns Le Monde and various offshoots, and many regional press titles. Vincent Bolloré, the owner of the Vivendi group, which holds Canal + and CNews, and has just taken control of Europe 1, Journal du Dimanche and Paris Match, was also mentioned.
Bolloré has regularly come under fire for his methods, which Reporters Without Borders describes as “brutal” and for “mechanics of control and intimidation of journalists”.
Invited to the programme “Sénat Stream”, the socialist senator Patrick Kanner declared his wish at the end of October that this future commission of inquiry questions the businessman.
“At a time when the GAFAMs [ed.: Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft] are becoming more and more involved in the global media and content market, it seems important that at the national level, France can continue to offer its viewers and readers diversified and independent media and press offerings,” the lawmakers also said.
The lawmakers will also look at the proposed merger between TF1 and M6 groups, which raises “legitimate questions” in the context of media pluralism and competition rules. The advertising market share of this future behemoth is estimated at 70%.
This sensitive antitrust case was met with opposition from the head of the competition authority, Isabelle de Silva. Despite her growing prestige as competition regulator, De Silva was not reconfirmed for her mandate, which expired in October. This led to speculation that the decision was related to differing views with the French executive on the TF1-M6 merger.