The press in France receives over €1 billion a year in State subsidies, a level of support that has no equivalence in any other democracy on the planet.
If freedom of the press comes at a price, then last year in France that price was over €1 billion in direct and indirect financial assistance from the State to national and local newspapers and publications.
Whilst it is a practice that has been in existence in France since the Revolution, with the introduction of preferential postal tariffs, it is one that has grown substantially since the 1980s as a result of the growing financial difficulties faced by the sector.
In the past, the level of that support was shrouded in secrecy but since 2012 the French Ministry of Culture has been obliged to publish details of the subsidies that are provided to each publication. It is a list that makes for some revealing reading.
According to the government figures, some 326 newspapers and publications were given direct financial support in 2015 totalling €77 million.
However, this figure excludes the substantial indirect financial support that is provided, which is no longer included in the analysis, following pressure last year from newspaper owners.
The direct assistance comes in various forms, some benefiting regional and local press only, others geared towards modernisation of the sector and to assist with restructuring. The French national auditor in 2013 criticised the complexity of the system, calling it ‘opaque’.
What we do know is that over 93% of the support goes to hard-copy newspapers and only 7% to exclusively on-line providers.
The highest subsidy of €7.7m in 2015 went to the Paris based daily newspaper Le Parisien, which publishes a national edition called Aujourd'hui en France. The Paris edition itself receives a further €1.6m.
Other major beneficiaries were leading national dailies Libération (€6.5m), Le Figaro (€6.5m) and Le Monde (€5.4m).
The list of the top 20 beneficiaries is show below.
|Newspaper||Amount||Per Copy Sold|
|Aujourd'hui en France||€7.7m||€0.15|
|La Depeche du Midi||€1.7m||€0.03|
|Le Progres/La Tribune||€1.6m||€0.02|
|La Dauphine Liberé||€1.2m||€0.1|
|La Journal de la Haute Marne||€1.2m||€0.15|
|La Journal du Dimanche||€1.1m||€0.11|
|La Voix du Nord||€1.0m||€0.01|
|La Republique du Pyrenees||€1.0m||€0.11|
Further down the list are many local newspapers, as well as magazines offering cultural, social, sports or professional news and information.
In addition to support to newspapers and magazines, the government has also granted exemption from business rates to newsagents, many of whom are in substantial financial difficulty.
If measured by subsidies of copies sold then the biggest beneficiary was La Vie Nouvelle (€0.48), a regional daily newspaper for Savoie, followed by the communist daily communist daily L'Humanité (€0.36), the feminist monthly magazine Causette (€0.24) and the left-wing national daily Libération (€0.23).
Excluded from the table published by the government are the indirect subsidies provided to the sector, chief of which are the reduced postal tariffs and assistance with transport, which, according to Syndicat de la presse indépendante d'information en ligne (Spil) amounts to around €500m.
There is also around €200m for official judicial and legal notices, another €200m for exemption from the local business rates, €160m for the lower rate of VAT applied to the press, and around €250m on the special tax and social security contributions status granted to journalists. The state also pays over €100m a year to the newswire Agence France Presse (AFP).
In total, Spil estimate that the total subsidy to the sector is €1.4 billion a year, a figure that has not been repudiated by the government or the French national auditor. If true, that is around 19% of the total turnover of the sector.
According to the Cour de Comptes, whilst a small number of other countries in Europe give support to the whole of the media industry which is commensurate or even higher than that figure, nowhere is the support to press and publications alone as high as occurs in France.