The French press is regulated by a complex body of legislation, whose roots may be found in Article XI of the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen. The declaration opens by affirming “the natural and imprescriptible rights of man” to “liberty, property, security and resistance to oppression.” Article 11 states: “The free communication of ideas and opinions is one of the most precious of the rights of man. Every citizen may, accordingly, speak, write, and print with freedom, but shall be responsible for such abuses of this freedom as shall be defined by law.” However, it was not until the law of 29 July, 1881 that the principle of a free press was included in the French Constitution, guaranteeing freedom of opinion and according the right to publish and disseminate information freely without prior restraint through any state authority.
The extremely liberal law of 1881 was overturned by the three major legislative push phases, formulating a steady but myriad growth policy of commercial regulation. Among the laws enacted in these years, the set of 1944-1947 ordinances strongly affect the press market.
The rules of ordinance of 22 and 26 August, 1944 set the economic, financial, and moral standard of the new press industry which intend to protect press from financial and economic pressures and to promote the diversity of opinion. In particular, these ordinances strictly forbade monopolies and press companies integration and mergers (eg a single person is not allowed to own more than one newspaper). However this ban of monopolies has been slightly eased yet it has been violated on various occasions. As an illustration members of parliament never strictly contradicted the quasi monopoly that characterises the regional press or more recently acted to limit the growing movement of concentration in press and more globally in media markets. That illustrates the longstanding and strong overlap between politics and the elite journalists that deeply shape the French media system.
The rules of law of 2 April, 1947 (called the Loi Bichet) first legalised the freedom of press distribution and put it under the monitoring of a cooperative: Presstalis (former NMPP), 100 percent owned by press publishers’ cooperatives. Presstalis distributed most national newspapers and nearly 80 percent of magazines and multimedia products. This cooperative system gives every publisher and press outlet an equal nationwide access to newsstands. Yet it faces strong criticism because of its high level of printing and circulation costs (nearly 50 percent of turnover for many outlets) and strikes.
The Conseil supérieur de l’audiovisuel (High Council for Audiovisual - CSA) was instituted under the law of 17 January, 1989 with the charge of guaranteeing (TV and radio) broadcasting communication freedom in France. It is the successor to the Haute Autorité de la communication audiovisuelle (High Authority for Audiovisual Communication - 1982-1986), and to the Commission nationale de la communication et des libertés (National Commission for Communication and Freedoms - 1986-1989). The scope of the CSA’s responsibilities under the law of 30 September 1986, amended numerous times, is wide-ranging: allocating frequencies to operators as well as ensuring plurality in opinions expressed, organising radio and television electoral campaigns, rigorous news treatment, ensuring human dignity is upheld, protecting consumers, ensuring on-air defence and showcasing of French language and culture, rendering television programmes accessible to hearing or visually impaired persons, ensuring media reflection of the diversity in French society, supporting health protection public policies, etc.
Regarding online press, a law of 12 June, 2009 created the status of online publisher that aims at including their online organisations delivering news in a professional framework, with respect of duties and rights of press and professional journalism.