The struggle for liberty that became the French Revolution parallels the birth of France’s modern media. Before this development, a restricted press was the norm. All publications had to go through censorship, and the Gazette gave a sanitized version of news and happenings. The upper classes had a firm grip on what was published. In contrast to its more liberated European and British neighbors, the first French daily newspaper, Le Journal de Paris, appeared in the late 1700s. The verbal spread of local gossip eventually grew into an informal printed sheet that contained all the important news in a local area.
France was also slow to adapt to the era of television. Late in the 1950s the French population began to consume television on a wider scale. Due to a restricted budget and infrastructure built for radio, the progress of TV continued to be slow. Many more Frenchmen owned a radio than a TV set even well into the 1960s. The contemporary media as we know it today only came about in the 1980s. After President François Mitterrand was elected, a liberalization of the media occurred. This period saw the end of the state monopoly and the introduction of a new regulatory body on broadcasting.
Magazines now account for around half of the total titles read by French citizens. These and local daily papers are where most of the country gets its news. Television, however, is still very popular. There are a number of publicly funded stations alongside a private commercial network.
As there are around 18 million French people with access to the internet, it’s no surprise that many of the magazines and newspapers have invested heavily in an online presence. Unlike some other countries, these websites and apps serve as a supplement to the hard copies of publications. The average reader will usually check the online edition for quick news but still purchase a copy at their local shop as well.
Worldwide, the French press has a good reputation, with Radio France Internationale being one of the most respected major outlets. The country’s global news outlet, France 24, broadcasts in three languages all around the world. Agence France Presse, known as AFP, was formed in the 1800s and is an unbiased source of news for many people outside of France. The image of the media seems to be mostly positive, making it an important tool to spread information. The majority of French media consumers see their media as an important part of democracy. They expect journalists to verify what they publish and hold them to a high standard.
Today’s media strikes a precarious balance. On the one hand is its freedoms, which the French people have fought long and hard for. On the other, there is the temptation to produce sensational news to attract more and more viewers and readers. The future of the media in France will see both the people and the media try to strike a balance.