Can CNews lose its frequency?

Can CNews lose its frequency?

The channel, owned by Vincent Bolloré, interviewed at the National Assembly on March 13, is criticized for a lack of pluralism. A perilous angle of attack from the perspective of the law.

The ball of TV frequencies has opened, and that of CNews is attracting all the attention. Since the end of February, the renewal of broadcasting authorizations for fifteen digital terrestrial television (DTT) channels has ignited debates. Arcom (formerly CSA)*, the media regulator, supervises the procedure. “A first since the launch of DTT in 2005. (…) We are going to start from scratch,” says Roch-Olivier Maistre, its president.

The process must be finalized before January 1, 2025. The CNews case is being closely monitored. On February 13, the Council of State, the highest administrative jurisdiction, gave Arcom six months to increase monitoring of respect for pluralism on the channel. At the start of the campaign for the European elections, the affair heated up and took a political turn. On March 13, a commission of inquiry of the National Assembly was to hear Vincent Bolloré, its owner. Two weeks earlier, Pascal Praud, Laurence Ferrari and Sonia Mabrouk, the channel’s headliners, had been on the grill of deputies.

Could this big scandal lead to the permanent closure of CNews? “Everything will depend on Arcom,” begins Philippe Piot, doctor of law and journalist. Exit the sole monitoring of the balance of speaking times between politicians provided for by the 1986 audiovisual law. It will now be necessary, according to the Council of State, to control the opinions of all participants on the sets: hosts, columnists, guests, in all programs. At CNews initially, then on all television channels.

A complicated control

Is the Arcom equipped for this titanic job? “She seems technically helpless given the scale of the task,” admits Alexis Lévrier, historian of journalism. Governed by a college of nine members, the Authority has around 300 agents. Currently, a special department is dedicated to respecting pluralism. Calculator in hand, its agents fill out tables and draw up a monthly statement of the intervention times of politicians.

“They watch TV, there is a random nature of control. I don’t think they have the means for continuous monitoring, even less if they have to extend the spectrum to columnists and other participants,” specifies Philippe Piot. Especially since it seems very complicated to appreciate the pluralism of opinions of the guests on set. “A person can have a right-wing position on certain subjects, a left-wing position on others,” continues the lawyer.

The icing on the cake is that a legal subtlety is added to the technical difficulties. “A decision of the Constitutional Council (July 26, 1984, no. 84-173DC, paragraph 4) indicates that it is not up to the Regulatory Authority to create the regulatory standard, and that it is there only for the “apply”, continues Philippe Piot.

Except that by its decision, the Council of State asks Arcom to issue the standard for measuring pluralism, even though it has no normative power. Enough to give CNews ammunition for a likely long legal battle.

Possible recourses

So, can CNews close? “I don’t believe it: there is no real political will and the symbol would surely be too strong,” explains Alexis Lévrier. “If we want to lay down rules that concern pluralism, we must think of them in absolute terms, not develop them for a single actor,” assures Philippe Piot. In the meantime, the first effects of this call to order are still being felt: the speeches of Philippe de Villiers, former president of the Movement for France (MPF) and former executive of the Reconquête party, in the show Face à Philippe de Villiers, broadcast on Saturday mornings on CNews, will now be subject to the “Miscellaneous right” count, Arcom announced last week.

If CNews loses its frequency at the end of the year, legal recourse is available to the Canal+ group, the parent company. He could take the case to the European Court of Human Rights. Beforehand, the decision could be challenged at national level through the traditional route before… the Council of State.

* Regulatory authority for audiovisual and digital communication.

Arte, Public Senate and LCP, three exceptions

Arcom is responsible for regulating public and private broadcasting, except for three channels: Arte, Public Senate and La Chaîne Parlementaire (LCP). Franco-German channel, Arte is governed by an international treaty signed by the two countries, which entered into force in 1990. Article 1 of the treaty provides that it is not under the control of a high national regulatory authority. For The Parliamentary Channel (LCP) and Public Senate, two companies 100% owned by the National Assembly and the Senate, the Office of each chamber ensures control.

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