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France: 'Islamophobic' CNews becomes top news channel

The historic shift comes at a time when polls suggest the far right is on the verge of victory in this week's European elections in France
CNews has been a vital platform for far-right figures such as former presidential candidate Eric Zemmour (left) (MEE/Samia Lokmane)
CNews has been a vital platform for far-right figures such as former presidential candidate Eric Zemmour (left) (MEE/Samia Lokmane)

CNews, a TV station frequently accused of promoting far-right views, became France’s number one news channel for the first time last month, according to figures published on Monday.

Often described as France’s version of Fox News due to its opinionated and divisive presenters and content, CNews reflects a rightwards shift in French politics, often featuring segments critical of immigration, Islam and "woke" leftists.

CNews took 2.8 percent of the audience share last month, edging past the long-standing leader BFMTV, which secured 2.7 percent, according to data collated by Mediametrie.

This surge in viewership comes at a time when polls suggest the far right is cruising to victory in this week's European elections in France.

“We are a mirror of society. Our progress has been constant and has accelerated for several months,” the CNews general director, Serge Nedjar, told AFP.

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Muslims and Islam, in particular, are in the crosshairs of the channel and its guests.

In April, as part of a four-part investigation, the French online media outlet Mediapart presented exclusive documents that seemingly confirmed CNews's Islamophobic intentions.

The report, based on thousands of WhatsApp messages and testimonies of former and current employees, revealed how CNews abuses media ethics and betrays the facts or does not verify them, with the aim of “consolidating its identity obsessions and showing its public the image of a France endangered by Islam and immigration".

“Inside CNews there are journalists who try as best as they can to do their job based on the facts, but systematically, they are ignored by columnists and commentators who are keen to unfold an Islamophobic discourse and clinging to erroneous facts which allow them to designate Islam as France’s main problem,” Yunnes Abzouz, one of the authors of the report, told Middle East Eye.

While references to Islam and immigration as dangers threatening France are omnipresent, the use of the expression "police violence" is banned. The channel's employees were also barred from broadcasting images of demonstrations demanding justice for Adama Traore, a 24-year-old man killed by the police during an arrest in 2016, according to the Mediapart investigation.

Frequently sanctioned

CNews denies having a political agenda and insists on adhering rigidly to rules that ensure each party gets an equal share of airtime during the election period.

However, the channel has been a vital platform for far-right figures such as former presidential candidate Eric Zemmour, who served as a commentator on the widely watched debate programme Face à l’info from 2019 to 2021.

Zemmour has been convicted several times for racist hate speech, including for comments made on CNews talk shows.

France: Why Eric Zemmour's rhetoric should worry us all
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Launched in 2017, CNews is part of a media group owned by conservative billionaire Vincent Bollore. In a rare public appearance before legislators in March, Bollore denied imposing any "ideology" on the stations and said their only interest was "telling the truth".

However, CNews and its sister station, C8, continue to face sanctions from media regulators.

Last month, CNews was fined €50,000 ($54,318) after a journalist blamed antisemitism and prison overcrowding on "Arab-Muslim immigration".

In March, the media regulator Arcom issued a warning to CNews after host Pascal Praud hypothesised that bedbugs were brought by immigrants who “do not have the same hygiene conditions as those who are on French soil”.

A summary by Le Monde newspaper revealed that between December 2012 and May 2024, CNews and C8 received at least 43 sanctions from Arcom and its predecessor, the Superior Audiovisual Council (CSA), with an evident increase in frequency over the past four years.

C8 and CNews are the only French channels to have faced financial sanctions.

According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), “CNews can no longer be considered as a news channel [because] it has transformed under the leadership of Vincent Bollore into a media [outlet] which disseminates opinions in a massive and oriented manner… regularly disregarding the independence, honesty and pluralism of information.”

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