Mr President,

Ladies and gentlemen, ladies and gentlemen,

 

I am pleased that we are able to consider today this draft law on various provisions for the modernization of the press sector.

 

I would particularly like to thank Michel Françaix, the rapporteur of the text, with whom we have worked very well and who has personally invested a lot in this bill. Your patient, determined work for the future of our country’s press deserves to be commended.

 

It is thanks to you and the very constructive work that took place in the Committee on Cultural Affairs, of which I commend President Patrick Bloche, that the text has been able to be fleshed out and improved following the adoption of amendments from all the political groups.

 

This collective work, the result of which is the almost unanimous adoption of the text by the Committee on Cultural Affairs, shows that the future of the press sector is a democratic issue before it is an economic issue. An issue that must bring us together, beyond traditional divisions.

 

It must be remembered that freedom of expression and information is disturbing; it is not obvious, and in this it is fragile. Freedom of the press is never a given; it is a perpetual struggle:

 

- a fight for the freedom of journalists in France and around the world, and I would like to pay tribute to reporters who take risks on the ground, sometimes at the risk of their lives;

 

- a fight for the requirement, the quality and the ethics, which presupposes, to take up the famous reproach of Armand Carrel to Emile Girardin, not to summarize the noble mission of journalism as a news dealer »

 

- finally, a fight against all the more or less avowed temptations of those who, through the ages, have wanted to put information under control

 

As you well know, freedom of the press was not achieved in one day; it is the fruit of successive conquests, which are often confused with the history of our democracy. In 1789, it is through Article 11 of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, the affirmation of the one of the most precious human rights» : ' the free communication of thoughts and opinions ", pursuant to which " every Citizen can therefore speak, write, print freely, except to answer for the abuse of this freedom in cases determined by the Law. »

But it was not enough to proclaim this freedom, as you well know, it was also necessary to give it the guarantees and the means necessary for its fulfilment. First, a secure legal framework. It was the 1881 law that defined the essential rules on which the functioning of the press is still based. By guaranteeing the dual freedom of management of press companies, on the one hand, and the freedom of expression of journalists, on the other hand, the 1881 law asserted itself as a pillar, a fundamental principle of the Republic. And the press are also very concrete issues, to which several measures adopted in 1944 and the 1947 Bichet Law came, after the war and the occupation, to bring also strong answers, in terms of materials, printing and distribution.

 

The text we are examining today is in full line with this legacy, by providing the press with new guarantees and new means adapted to current challenges.

 

These issues, we must not hide the fact, are considerable, because the press is facing huge challenges today if it wants to save its future. These challenges are twofold and you know them. It is first of all a democratic challenge, through the ever-increasing distrust of our fellow citizens towards the media and journalists; it is also an economic and social challenge, through the unprecedented upheaval of the press sector and its professions through the digital revolution.

 

Many people talk about the “crisis” of the press. I prefer to talk about challenges, because we must not give in to sinistrosis and fatalism. I regret, like you, to see some press titles in difficulties, and the Government is mobilized to support these developments. I also regret to see a certain impoverishment of information, accentuated by social networks and continuous news channels. But I also see a new, daring, lively, cutting-edge, inventive, entrepreneurial press that not only thrives on the Internet but also knows how to reinvent paper. And our citizens today have very wide access to information of extraordinary diversity; we must not forget that.

 

The challenge is to maintain and amplify this liveliness, while firmly maintaining a requirement of reliability, quality and ethics; a requirement that allows journalism and information not to become activities like the others; that they are able to build a lasting bond of trust with our fellow citizens. This is the challenge we face!

 

As I said, this bill provides new guarantees and new means to address these issues.

 

The text is divided into three parts: new guarantees for the free distribution of the press on the territory; new means given to Agence France-Presse to assert itself as a champion of information on a global scale; the creation of a new status as a solidarity media company. 

 

1) Title I of the draft law provides new guarantees for the free distribution of the press in the territory

 

The cooperative press distribution system is a strong principle of pluralistic information in our country. It guarantees all publishers the right to be distributed and thus enables the effective implementation of the constitutional objective of preserving the pluralist character of the currents of expression.

 

However, this system is now confronted, at all levels, with an inexorable equation, linked to the decline in the physical distribution of the press, which weakens the messaging, especially Presstalis, which is engaged in a deep restructuring, essential to its sustainability, but also to depositaries, broadcasters and press publishers.

 

Therefore, in accordance with the founding principles inherited from the Bichet law – equal treatment of titles, cooperative nature of the system, joint governance – three developments should be carried out, which complement the progress made by the law no. 2011-852 of 20 July 2011 on the regulation of the press distribution system :

 

- firstly, the text reinforces the logic of cooperative solidarity within the distribution of the press; by affirming in law the principles of cooperation and general financial equilibrium and by reinforcing the objectivity of the modalities and criteria of solidarity, especially through the scales of the messengers

 

- secondly, the text proposes to give the Autorité de Régulation de la Distribution de la Presse (ARDP) greater power to ensure the rapid implementation of the sector’s essential reforms, while maintaining the representative and decision-making role of the Conseil supérieur des messageries de presse (CSMP).

 

- thirdly, the text proposes to open in a framed way the «last mile» of press distribution to press publishers, which will make it possible to implement useful mutualisations between distribution networks

 

2) Title II of the draft law provides new means for Agence France-Presse to assert itself as a world-wide information champion.

 

Agence France-Presse is the only non-English-speaking international agency that contributes fully to France’s reputation and provides accurate, impartial and trustworthy information, as stated in article 2 of its statute.

 

In a context of digital change and increased international competition, with the recent creation of a Chinese agency, we must give this Agency the means to assert itself in its rightful place.

 

The Government decided to carry out a mission on the future of AFP.   The final report of MP Michel Françaix in the framework of his mission proposes to strengthen the investment capacity of the Agency so that it can consolidate its model and develop innovative products, including the creation of a subsidiary of means. I know the fears that the creation of this subsidiary may have raised. However, the choice of this option does not pose any danger to the Agency but rather makes it possible to meet its funding need effectively.

 

At the same time, I wanted to point out that the State is supporting the development of AFP with a particularly favourable budgetary treatment in the draft budget law for 2015, by finalizing the negotiation of an ambitious targets and means contract and by completing the revision of the agreement for the subscription of State services to AFP, which has not been done since … 1958!

 

The legislative provisions which your Assembly is examining today are aimed at modernising the Agency’s governance and bringing it into line with the Community framework. They thus complete the consolidation of the original AFP model and its security in an increasingly competitive economic environment.

 

The proposed changes in governance aim to offer more openness, parity, impartiality, and finally stability in the conduct of the Agency.

 

Moreover, the closure of the State aid complaint filed by an AFP competitor with the European Commission calls for adjustments to the Agency’s Statute in full compliance with the 1957 spirit, in particular at the tariff and accounting level.

I am aware of the sensitivity of some of these provisions, which are, however, only ways of making the agency sustainable. Indeed, the establishment of separate accounts and the reform of the bankruptcy regime are necessary to respect the European framework.

The Agency’s full compliance with Community law constitutes an essential safeguard for its proper functioning and expansion on the European market. We should be very happy about that.

Thus, not only do we consolidate the Agency’s specific model of independence and editorial quality, but we also enable it to project itself into the 21st century with all the tools it needs to develop and innovate.

 

3) Finally, Title III of the draft law creates a new statute for a joint and several news press undertaking

Creating a new business model for the press is a tremendous motivation for today’s press entrepreneurs. It will be able to respond to all those who have innovative projects but whose viability is compromised by the difficulty of raising the necessary funds to start the project and to keep them over the duration so as to consolidate the activity. To win over a new audience of readers who have become more demanding, to convince of the relevance of his project, to develop a new contract of reading on subjects of political and general information, this is the pluralism of information today. This is why it is more essential than ever to give new players a chance to provide information to citizens, especially young people.

I know that the Committee on Cultural Affairs' examination of the text was the occasion for a heated debate on the notion of a political and general press, which is at the heart of this mechanism because it is at the heart of media pluralism. This definition is currently being debated within the profession, particularly in order to better adapt it to the digital press. The President of the Joint Commission on Publications and Press Agencies, Mr Jean-François MARY, has given some thought to this question after consulting the professionals. He has provided us with some ideas that will have to be incorporated into a broader reform of the press assistance I am working on. But, at this stage, the definition proposed in the draft law is that which appears in Article 39a A of the General Tax Code in order to offer this new status to the broadest field of publications and press sites of political and general information.

The citizen press information company, which the Committee on Cultural Affairs has wished to rename “solidarity” press information company, will be the place for new experiences, challenges of imagination and pluralist information. The choice of this status inspired by social and solidarity economy enterprises corresponds to the desire of the shareholders to give up part of the profits in order to reinvest them in the activity of the company. Nevertheless, these enterprises remain commercial enterprises. They will simply opt for a model that reinforces their obligation to set aside the money needed to sustain the activity.

The Government will accompany this new status, when it sees the light of day, with incentives to make this status as attractive as possible. I hope that individuals and businesses can provide their support in a sustainable way to these emerging information actors.

 

IV) New rights for journalists

Finally, there is a fourth aspect to this text, which I welcome, thanks to your debates in committee. You have decided to give new rights to journalists

Ladies and gentlemen, since I was appointed Minister responsible for the press, I must admit that I have not forgotten the number 39. Why 39? Because this is France’s place in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. This classification can certainly be discussed in its methodology, but it reveals for a decade a dangerous shift from which the homeland of human rights cannot be satisfied.

I therefore welcome the fact that your debates in committee have made it possible to introduce new rights for journalists through the possibility of accompanying parliamentarians to places of deprivation of liberty. I can only welcome this development in favour of greater freedom of the press and, through it, greater transparency regarding the conditions of detention in our country. I want to thank the Keeper of the Seals, Christiane Taubira, for allowing this evolution of our law to happen.

This progress is also an opportunity for me to solemnly tell you that the government has not abandoned its ambition to legislate on the protection of source confidentiality.

I am pleased to announce that, in conjunction with MP Chapdelaine and the members of the law and culture committees, the government has decided to resume work on this issue. A difficult and long work that has in fact not stopped in the last year, and which must allow us to ensure the constitutionality of the future text.

We must find a way of reconciling our ambition to better protect sources and at the same time preserve a certain number of safeguards and guarantees from the point of view of internal security and the agents involved.

But this search for a balanced writing must not make us lose sight of the political objective pursued by this majority, which corresponds to a commitment of the President of the Republic, and to a major democratic commitment: the protection of journalists' sources.

Tonight we are meeting the commitments of the President of the Republic. The latter, through his 51th commitment, had addressed two issues in the same movement, but without tying them: I will preserve the independence of AFP and strengthen the law on the protection of sources This evening we are working with Parliament to preserve the independence of AFP. Tomorrow we will strengthen the protection of sources.

 

Thank you.