FRANCE

Introduction

The current media ownership rules in France prevent any single entity acquiring excessive influence of the various media, thereby ensuring plurality of voice and diversity of content. Restrictions on permitted shareholdings and foreign ownership are also exercised in defence of the cherished "Gallic Cultural Exception" on which France prides itself. The authorities would likely intervene if this guarantee of freedom of speech and audiovisual creation were under threat.

1. Television


  • Foreign Ownership Restrictions - Can a non-EU entity control the following broadcasting interests in France?


Satellite yes
Cable yes
Terrestrial (analogue) no[1]
Terrestrial (digital) no[2]


  • Ownership Aggregation Limits -


The following restrictions apply:

a) Shareholding Threshold Restrictions

(i) Terrestrial (analogue/digital) - 49% limit if a channel’s audience exceeds 2.5% of national TV (whether analogue or digital, over terrestrial cable or satellite) audience.
(ii) A shareholder controlling one national terrestrial analogue channel may not hold more than 15% share in a second national channel and 5% of a third channel.

b) Ownership of Channels

National Level

i. Ban on controlling more than one terrestrial analogue channel.
ii. Ban on controlling more than 5 terrestrial digital channels.

Local Level

i. Ban on controlling more than two terrestrial (analogue/digital) regional channels in the same region.
ii. Ban on controlling more than one terrestrial (analogue/digital) regional channel where population exceeds 6 million.


2. Radio

  • Foreign Ownership Restrictions -


A non-EU entity may not control more than 20% share in a radio broadcasting entity.


  • Ownership Aggregation Limits -


An entity may not control one or more radio stations or a network of radio stations if audience levels exceed 150 million.


3. Newspapers

  • Foreign Ownership Restrictions -


A non-EU entity may not acquire in more than 20% share in a French-language newspaper, except where it has incorporated it itself, in which case it can sustain up to 100% ownership.


  • Ownership Aggregation Limits -


A single entity may not control more than 30% of the circulation of daily national newspapers.


4. Cross-media Ownership Restrictions


To maintain interests in differing media sectors, an individual/entity must not satisfy more than two of the following criteria at either the national and/or local level:

National Level

i. Owning one or more terrestrial TV channels in an area which has greater than 4 million inhabitants.
ii. Owning one or more radio stations with area coverage of more than 30 million inhabitants.
iii. Holding an authorisation to operate a cable network for an area which has more than 6 million inhabitants.
iv. Editing or controlling daily newspapers exceeding 20% of national circulation.

Local Level

i. Owning a national terrestrial TV licence or a local channel licence for the relevant area.
ii. Owning one or more (local/regional) radio stations with audiences in excess of 10% of cumulative audiences in that area.
iii. Holding an authorisation to operate a cable network in the area in question.
iv. Editorial or other control of daily newspapers in the relevant area.


5. Local Competition Law Policy


The French Competition Council and the French Broadcasting Authority (Conseil Supérieur de l'Audiovisuel) examine the effects of a merger/acquisition between media entities. As far as competition is concerned, the CSA is to be consulted by the Competition Council on anti-competitive practices and mergers. However the CSA is solely in charge of monitoring ownership aggregation limits and cross media ownership restrictions. To that effect, shareholders of authorised broadcasting entities must notify the CSA if their holdings exceed 10%, so that the CSA is always informed of the share capital structure of those entities under its supervision.

The CSA recently prevented a reorganisation within the radio industry, which would have resulted in a single entity controlling more than the 150 million coverage threshold (NRJ/Nostalgie/RMC/Europe1/Skyrock).

The CSA has also requested further information concerning the Vivendi/Universal merger. The 20% foreign control threshold was in issue here, in particular when VU further merged with USA Networks. Similar investigations have been undertaken by the CSA in relation to M6, the sixth largest national analogue channel due to the reorganisation of RTL/Bertelsmann Group (the M6 holding company).


Footnotes


[1] A non-EU entity may not control more than 20% share capital
[2] See note [1] above

Authors