France shows the dangers of media concentration



“Has the omnipresence of the extreme right in the media normalized its presence in the political field? The results of the presidential election speak for themselves”.Lorie Shaull/Flickr

One of the main takeaways from last month’s presidential election was the normalization of the far right and record abstention rates in France. While politicians should be held accountable for these trends, the media should not escape scrutiny.

Elections are often defined by pivotal moments of media coverage and consumption. Who doesn’t check their phone for updates and scandals or watch debates between rounds, despite saying they won’t?

During the presidential campaign, French television programs debated whether Marine Le Pen is, in fact, far-rightcasually asked her about her cats and covered her up family dinner, nicknaming her “miss good humor”. BFM-TV, the country’s most-watched news channel, devoted almost half of its airtime to Le Pen supporters before the start of official election monitoring. His candidacy was deeply personalized and familiarized with voters; like ‘Boris’, many in France no longer know it as ‘Le Pen’, but as ‘Marine’. Faced with such media coverage, is it surprising that far-right parties won almost a third of the votes in the first round, an unprecedented level in the history of the Fifth Republic?

“A phenomenon of trivialization and depoliticization of the far right”

Zemmour, another far-right candidate, won fame and a platform through his controversial statements on television. A product of media sensationalism, Zemmour’s rise is a prime example of the gradual shift in the media landscape and political discourse towards the far right. His presence on TV shows has steadily increased since the late 2000s, scandal after scandal bringing back the views. During the presidential campaign, he was everywhere. The scope of public debate was dictated by the themes he and Le Pen deemed relevant, and the other candidates were reduced to commenting on his statements or building their narrative around him.

The phenomenon of trivialization and depoliticization of the far right has been openly denounced since the beginning of the 2010s by independent journalists and political analysts. Has the omnipresence of the extreme right in the media normalized its presence in the political field? The results of the presidential election speak for themselves.

Due to the overrepresentation of the far right, ecological and social issues were largely ignored during the campaign. Despite the fact that the latest IPCC report gave politicians only three years to act decisively, climate change was not the main issue of the campaign. More … than ninety percent of the French electorate felt that climate issues should have been a central part of the campaign, but the presidential debate allocated them less than twenty minutes out of nearly three hours, with precious time devoted more to immigration.

“Concentrations of power and influence threaten media independence and press freedom”

This year’s elections demonstrate a long-term trend for the media to fail to meet the necessary standards of objectivity and fair coverage. This issue was addressed by a Senate inquiry committee that opened in November 2021, led by senators from the Socialist Party. The survey focused on media concentration in France and its effects.

What subjectivity do we massively consume?

Today, nine billionaires share the majority of the French press. Levels of media focus have not only reached new heights, but power has also shifted from wealthy publishers to international tycoons, who can use their influence to protect economic interests. A man, Vincent Bolloré, runs several television channels (Canal+, C8, CNews), publishing houses (Editis), newspapers (Prisma Media magazines, JDD, Paris Match) and a radio station (Europe 1). Such concentrations of power and influence threaten the independence of the media and the freedom of the press. Several surveys have illustrated Bolloré’s desire to influence editorial lines; the senate report writes that “the journalists who make up the editorial staff have guarantees of independence, but are they sufficiently effective in dealing with shareholders who might be tempted to intervene? “.

If freedom of the press still exists in France, it is not unreasonable to fear the gradual disappearance of editorial independence.

With the French legislative elections fast approaching, it is time for mainstream political journalism to stop speculating, juggling popularity polls and polls, commenting on the election as one would a horse race. It’s time for the media to do better. We need them to do better.

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