the real issue for our media is not so much pluralism as quality – L’Express

the real issue for our media is not so much

New episode in the “battle for impartiality”, the recent decision of the Council of State ordering the Regulatory Authority for Audiovisual and Digital Communication (Arcom) to better control the pluralism of audiovisual media has been in the news for several days. In November 2021, RSF asked Arcom to put the CNews channel on notice for breaches of its legal obligations of honesty, independence and pluralism of information. Having received a negative response from the regulatory body, RSF then filed an appeal with the Council of State, which has just ordered Arcom to comply. Its director, Roch-Olivier Maistre, recently spoke in The gallery to clarify that the request of the Council of State, that the Arcom take into account the interventions of “all participants in broadcast programs, including columnists, hosts and guests“, would not amount to narrowly categorizing these participants but to exercising a “global assessment of all the programs broadcast”. The elephant could well give birth to a mouse, or rather to a useless gas plant.

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Should we see this as a partisan decision, like some commentators suppose it? This seems unlikely since the decision of the Council of State does not only apply to CNews but to all audiovisual media, public and private. On the other hand, the episode reveals the growing unease of our institutions with regard to the media and their mission.

We are paying the price for an unprecedented freedom of circulation of ideas on a human scale. From the written press to social networks and audiovisual channels, readers, listeners and viewers have never had access to so much news, information and opinions. Fifty years ago, the suppression of the ORTF, an integral part of the Giscardian liberalization movement, responded to French society’s need for pluralism. Corseted, paternalistic and vertical, information, as Alain Peyrefitte noted in French Evil“missing[ait] of credit in the nation” because “everyone believed they heard less the ‘voice of France’ than that of the government”. Fifty years later, pluralism is theoretically at its highest. Theoretically, because it is more about of a pluralism of juxtaposition rather than confrontation, where private channels lean to the right and public ones to the left, where each program applies its own conception of the “republican arc”, and where styles, from France Culture to TikTok, turn out to be extremely varied.

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However, this variety is not experienced as a wealth but as a source of tension: France, like all liberal democracies, is experiencing a sort of crisis of media abundance, the three main manifestations of which are the combination of overproduction and overconsumption, the growing opposition between re-education journalism and confirmation journalism, and the legalization of the production of information.

Any situation of abundance brings with it particular difficulties. In the era of “infobesity”, an ugly but sadly true term, “content” producers overfeed us, with no limits seeming to be imposed on this profusion. There are too many programs, too much news, too many debates, everywhere, all the time. They jump from one subject to another or appear obsessively monothematic. To fill them, you have to move quickly, work superficially and involve Swiss Army knife columnists who know everything, that is to say, nothing. Even the speech rate of audiovisual journalists is accelerating to the limit of sustainability. As a result, we consume too much and poorly junk information rich in short-term satisfaction, while finding ourselves deprived of a commodity that is nevertheless essential to the health of public debate, time – that of listening, thinking, discussing, and even sleeping.

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The technological advances that have made this perpetual journalism possible have also contributed to the emergence of two new trends. Traditionally, two types of media coexist in liberal democracies, those that report the facts and those that take a position on the latter – although obviously, like yin and yang, each necessarily harbors within it a dose of the other . However, in recent years, from these two types, two other audiovisual forms have emerged and then strengthened.

One, tendentially public, encouraged by the community of an ideologically uniform elite frightened by the “right-wing” of France, aims to educate and even re-educate the masses. The other, in reaction to the latter, mainly present in private channels, aims to make the raw opinion of “ordinary people” heard, and therefore to justify it. On the one hand, “reeducation”, the model of Delphine Ernotte, president of France Télévisions, who was able to declare during a hearing at the National Assembly that France Télévisions “tries to represent France as we would like it to be”. On the other, “justification”, the model of the CNews channel, whose motto, “Come with your convictions, you will form an opinion”, speaks for itself. Two currents which find their respective extension on social networks, and which continue to pile on not only on social questions but on their respective legitimacy.

Faced with this hubbub, our embarrassed institutions have only found a solution of regulation or sanction, embodied by the Arcom or the judicial authority, and are tearing their hair out to know how to regulate “hate” all together. while preserving “freedom of expression”.

However, in this triple context, the big loser is not so much the plurality of points of view and opinions, widely and even overserved, as the quality of their expression. Obsessive information overload prevents proper fact-checking and in-depth analysis, while impoverishing the language used. Re-education and justification are carried out in disregard of the search for truth, expertise and nuance. The regulatory reflex produces conformism and self-censorship. Ultimately, audiovisual information transforms into a vast collective rumination from which we undoubtedly emerge dumber than we entered.

Some would answer that the public is free to listen and watch what they want. But to be truly free, he would still have to have the choice of quality. In other words, those who run the French channels should strive to offer us something other than mediocrity. This would imply, for the public service, abandoning re-education for education itself. And for private channels, not to be satisfied with the relativism of personal opinion. The (too long) motto of an audiovisual media worthy of the name could therefore become, in this context, the following: “Come with your convictions, we will try to show you France as it is, and you will be able to learn from it not an opinion, but a judgment.