The Structure of Media Ownership in France



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The Structure of Media Ownership in France
Media ownership in France is shared between the state and other commercial companies. The state is very prominent in broadcasting while the other companies dominate print media. There are some small newspapers and community radio stations that are run by voluntary associations.

Compared to other major European societies, the level of ownership concentration within France’s press is lower. This is to ensure a diverse group of ownership and less monopolizing. There is no company that maintains a dominant market position nationwide such as Murdoch’s News International in Great Britain. However, in every region there is a single major press group that does control the main regional title as well as smaller local titles. The French press is protected against advertising from supermarkets, lawyers, cinemas, amongst others as they cannot advertise on television or radio. However, the free distribution of Norway’s Schibsted and Sweden’s Metro International has created controversy.

Radio France is the major commercial station in France’s public sector. Other stations include CLT-UFA (Radio Luxembourg), Hachette (Europe 1), and NRJ (NRJ networks, Radio Monte Carlo). The Bertelsmann group owns 50 % of CLT-UFA radio station. They are also the second largest magazine publisher through Prisma Presse, which publishes Femme Actuelle, Prima, Geo, Gala, and others. In radio, one entity cannot control one or more radio stations or networks of radio stations if the audience level exceeds 150 million viewers.

Terrestrial television is dominated by the public broadcaster France Television, owning a share of 40 %. Other stations are owned by French industrial groups and private sector free-to-air channels. TF1 was the first public sector channel which was then privitized in 1987 by the Bouyges Group. The majority of M6 is owned by RTL (Suez Company), which targets the youth audience. CanalSatellite, a digital satellite company, is owned by the Canal Plus Group. Canal Plus has a 49% stake in pay television channels, with a role in film production through Studio Canal. They also have thematic channels and subscriber access systems. TPS is owned by TF1, France-Television, and M6.

Media ownership must follow strict restrictions in France. The restrictions on the ownership of channels differ on the national level compared to the local level. On the local level, there is a ban on controlling more than two terrestrial regional channels in the same region. There is also a ban on controlling more than one terrestrial regional channel where the population exceeds 6 million inhabitants. On the national level, no single entity can control more than one terrestrial channel or more than five terrestrial digital channels.

Vivendi Universal owns the Canal Plus Group. It is a French company but the size and scale of this company behaves similarly to a global media company rather than a national one. Vivendi Universal has reached the external market but experienced financial problems in 2002. The Canal Plus Group has exported pay television format to other European countries including Belgium, Spain, Poland, and Italy but withdrew from their pay television venture in Italy. These obstacles represent the difficulties France has in extending their media ownership to the international market.

Cross media ownership is not very common in France. One company may not satisfy two of the following criteria at the national or local level.

At the national level:



  1. Owning one or more terrestrial TV channels in an area of more than 4 million inhabitants.

  2. Owning one or more radio stations with area coverage of more than 30 million inhabitants.

  3. Holding an authorization to operate a cable network for an area with more than 6 million inhabitants.

  4. Editing or controlling daily newspapers exceeding 20% of national circulation.

At the local level:

  1. Owning a national terrestrial TV licence or local channel licence for relevant areas.

  2. Owning one or more (local or regional) radio stations with audiences in excess of 10% of cumulative audiences in that area.

  3. Holding an authorization to operate a cable network in area of question.

  4. Editorial or other control of daily newspapers in the relevant area.


France’s media market and communications is much less susceptible to external influences than some of their other European neighbours because it is under national ownership and control. Foreign participation outside of the European Union in broadcast media is limited by regulations and discouraged in practise by the state. Non-EU foreign interests must not exceed 20% of a TV or radio company. For example, a non-EU entity can control satellite and cable but not terrestrial television. Although the domestic market is protected by the state, it also has the ability to compete in the European and global market. The current media ownership rules in France prevent any one entity to acquire excessive influence of various media to ensure a plurality of voice and diversity of content.


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