Fake news and conspiracy theories surged with the Yellow Vests. The number of those who trust the media in France is declining: less than one quarter of the population still have faith in the press.
The European election campaign has been more lively than usual in France. Political parties have not talked much about Europe, but the media started to do so earlier than before. Radio France and France Television have enhanced their coverage, and for the first time, we’ve seen a few debates on TV with candidates.
Was it worth it?
One may argue that French people was more motivated to go to the polling stations than in 2014. Turnout rose 10% compared to the previous time to reach 52%.
But it’s still only half of the voting population. And 35% of those who voted supported anti-EU parties.
A better effort to explain EU affairs is definitely a great idea. But there is quite a big problem anyhow. The French do not trust the media. Or they don’t trust them any longer.
According to Reuters Institute and Statista report published on 12 May, trust for media in France has slumped 11% in just one year, the remaining believers shrinking to a tiny quarter of the population.
That number is by far the lowest in the EU. In Finland, 59% trust their newspapers and TV, in Portugal 58%, in Belgium 49%, in Poland 47%.
Even in Salvini’s Italy, 40% of the citizens trust them also; also in the UK, where tabloids do not have the best credibility especially after Brexit, 40% of the citizens still trust their media.
In France, that rate has reached 24%, so less than 1 adult out of 4.
There is only one country in the world that has a lower rate: 22%, and that’s South Korea. The country in which a newspaper recently announced that Kim Jung Un killed five diplomats following the failure of nuclear summit. The newspaper Chosun Ilbo based its story on one anonymous source only; three days later, one of the “killed” diplomats was seen in North Korea.
This could not have happened in France. French media may have issues, but they definitely deserve trust, probably more than many other European media. Public media are independent, hence the numerous fights between journalists and their direction. In illiberal regimes, journalists working for public organisations do not fight: they get fired even before they start protesting. This is what happened in Hungary lately at the press agency. Private media are by definition controlled by private interests, mostly industrialists like Dassault and Le Figaro, LVMH and Les Echos or Le Parisien. This situation does not mean they can’t be trusted, because journalists also fight for their freedom there. Each time shareholders cross the red line by influencing the content, the whole country knows it a few days later in the satirical newspaper Canard Enchainé. So they tend not to.
The Yellow Vest effect
According to Reuters, the reason why distrust has been growing lately is the “Yellow Vests” phenomenon. Last fall, mainstream media had waited 2 weeks before reporting about the movement. Then there were 6 months of demonstrations, with a lot of violence and lot of fake news. Traditional media lost a lot of credibility. Other gained a lot, especially Facebook groups about Yellow Vests, other social media and some other news outlets. Russia Today TV, who decided to officially support the Yellow Vests, was among them. They are financed by Russia, a country who arrested and beat a journalist just this week.
What is now sure is that Russia tried to influence the presidential election just before the vote in 2017, as Le Monde newspaper reported its independent investigation over the ‘Macrons Leaks‘ over the week-end. Arguing that Le Monde or other French news organisation do not deserve trust is both unfair, and untrue.