It’s the news network that claims it tells viewers what the “woke” mainstream media won’t. It says it fights for endangered freedom of expression, even as it has been fined by the government’s broadcast regulator for inciting racial hatred.
It is CNews — which in four short years became France’s No. 1 news network for the first time in May by giving a bullhorn to far-right politicians, opponents of fighting climate change and a high-profile proponent of the discredited idea of using the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a cure for COVID-19.
The model is Fox News — including the clashing talking heads and incendiary cultural topics — and it has worked. Owned by French billionaire Vincent Bolloré, former chairman of the media group Vivendi, CNews increasingly helps shape the national debate, especially on hot-button issues like crime, immigration and Islam’s place in France that are expected to sway next year’s presidential election.
In a country where trust in the media is very low, CNews emerged at a time of particular discontent — in the aftermath of the Yellow Vest protests of 2018, which, like the U.S. election of Donald Trump, prompted much soul-searching among journalists.
“People were sick and tired of the politically correct, and, in France, for the past 30, 40 years, news was in the hands of newspapers, television and dailies that all said the same thing,” said Serge Nedjar, the head of CNews, explaining how his channel positioned itself in a nation with four all-news networks.
Unlike its competitors, CNews focused on “analyses and debates” of topics that Nedjar said mattered most to the French but had been ignored or insufficiently covered by the media: “crime, lack of safety, immigration.”
He added: “We created this network by telling ourselves we talk about everything, including topics that are explosive.”
Nedjar said that he was unfamiliar with Fox News when CNews was created and waved away comparisons.
“There’s the word ‘news,’ and all the better if it works like Fox News,” he said, referring to his network’s name. “Fox News works really well over there, I hear.”
But critics say the problem is not with CNews’ choice of topics but with the way it treats them. They say its emphasis on opinion, often backed up with little reporting or fact-checking, propagates popular biases and deepens cleavages in a polarized society.