35 out of 173 in the worldwide index
Area: 551,500 sq. km.
Head of state: Nicolas Sarkozy, since May 2007
The state of press freedom has been worsening in France for the past several years as a result of tension between the press and the authorities, growing pressure on journalists to reveal their sources of information and reform of the public broadcast sector.
The year 2008 opened in a climate of heightened tension between the president, the government and the media. Nicolas Sarkozy in February broke with the practice that French heads of state do not sue journalists. The president laid a criminal complaint against Le Nouvel Observateur after it carried an article, which turned out to be untrue, relating to a text he had allegedly sent to his former wife. In May, a deputy for Hauts-de-Seine and spokesman for the president’s Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), Frederic Lefebvre, launched a verbal attack against the AFP news agency for failing to put out one of his press statements. The president returned to the fight and accused L’Express, Marianne, Le Parisien, Le Journal du Dimanche and Agence France-Presse of “taking on the job of the opposition”. Then reform of public broadcasting, begun in May 2008 and promulgated at the start of March 2009, allowed the council of ministers to appoint press bosses in the public sector. Finally, in April 2009, four journalist working for the website Rue89 and for France 3 were summoned by the anti-crime unit, the BDRP, and accused of theft and receiving stolen property after Rue89 posted a video on its website of off air remarks made by Nicolas Sarkozy, particularly about public service in the media ahead of an interview on the evening news bulletin on France 3.
Alongside deteriorating relations between the public authorities and the press, there has been a worrying rise throughout the same period in investigations, summonses and searches involving journalists and media. France now holds the European record in this field. The year 2008 began under the cloud of the case of Guillaume Dasquié, editor of Géopolitique.com, who was held in custody in December 2007, facing charges of “violating defence secrets” and closed with the early morning arrest of Libération journalist Vittorio de Filippis, who was subjected to a body search before being investigated in a straightforward libel case. In the meantime, several media offices were subjected to searches including AutoPlus, La Nouvelle République du Centre, and Tac Presse.
Journalists, who have been accused of violating the confidentiality of criminal investigations and professional and defence secrets, have come under pressure to reveal their sources of information. Reporters Without Borders is campaigning for the principle of protection of sources to be enshrined in the 1881 press law. Nicolas Sarkozy made this very promise during his election campaign, but even though a draft law was put forward on 2 April 2008, it is still waiting for its second reading in the National Assembly which has a heavy backlog of business.