World Association of News Publishers

Franck Riester, French Minister of Culture, meets the Supervisory Board of WAN-IFRA.

Franck Riester, French Minister of Culture, meets the Supervisory Board of WAN-IFRA.

Paris, France – 2019-12-12

The press is facing "new threats". Threats that we did not know about ten years ago, Franck Riester stressed at the Supervisory Board of WAN-IFRA, the World Association of Newspapers, on Thursday, December 12 in Paris. While widespread mistrust of the media and information is one of these threats', the Minister of Culture also referred to the ''upheaval'' of economic models linked to ''the digital revolution''. As such, Franck RIESTER reaffirmed that the European States must work together to find a common response to online platforms and aggregators.

If the platforms to which the law transposing the Copyright Directive is addressed "believe they can free themselves from it" and "can escape a fair sharing of value", Mr Riester has made this clear: "they are wrong". And to ensure that "a company, however large it may be, cannot free itself from the law".

Considering "unacceptable" the refusal by Google to pay French agencies and publishers under the neighbouring right, the Minister considers "imperative that negotiations resume". "I also regret the method used by Facebook, which has announced its intention to apply French law, but has changed its conditions for displaying press content posted by users before even starting any negotiations with you," Riester added.

The neighbouring right adopted at European level must also be defended at this level, "because Europe is our best protection", said the French Minister, in the face of the GAFAs "we will only be able to stand up if we stand united". "We will work together to build a common response with the other Member States," he added. And, at the national level, "if we find that our law is not sufficient, we will be able to supplement it", he continued, recalling that this could be done as part of the audiovisual reform process.

Whether it is a question of regulation, the empowerment of digital platforms, or more broadly the digital agenda of the new European Commission, "France will be a force for proposal", Mr Riester assured. France will be all the more so as there are "solutions", he added, thinking of a greater requirement for "transparency and loyalty in the relationships between the actors", the need to "guarantee the freedom of choice of users", "to demand a better sharing of data access, an obligation of transparency of algorithms, or a guarantee of the interoperability of services, so that no platform can pose an access barrier to a service". He concluded by calling on press publishers to remain united and mobilised.





Mr President of the World Association of Newspaper Publishers, dear Fernando DE YARZA,

Mr President of the Les Echos/Le Parisien group, dear Pierre LOUETTE,

Ladies and gentlemen, ladies and gentlemen,

Dear friends,


Thank you for your invitation.

It is very important for me to come and introduce this day. A day of reflection, dialogue, cooperation and sharing of good practices across borders. For more than 70 years, this has been the vocation of your association, WAN-IFRA. And I want to thank you for extending it.

Yes, it is the press from all over the world that your association represents. The press in its richness, diversity and pluralism of opinion and thought. The press from countries that are profoundly different, with legal traditions and habits that are sometimes distant.

But the press, also, in its universal value; in this symbol of the freedom of expression it represents; in its priceless value as the cement of our democracies. Because there is no democracy without you, without the publishers, without the journalists, without a free press. We all know how fragile this freedom is. How necessary it is to protect it.

Today, it faces new threats. Threats we didn't know about ten years ago — more insidious threats than those we were used to. I am thinking of the general mistrust of the media and information. I am thinking of the multiplication of sources, contents and modes of expression. I am thinking of the upheaval in your business models as a result of the digital revolution.

By depriving you of resources that should be yours, platforms put your funding, and therefore your independence, at risk.

Of course, content aggregators and social networks account for a large part of the traffic of press sites. But it is also clear that we are facing a clear market imbalance when you, news publishers, cannot afford to be any longer available on a search engine because it has acquired too dominant a position. It is equally evident that Google News could not exist without the work you do, the content you produce, the information you share.

Today, in France, 35,000 journalists with a press card provide professional, reliable and quality information.  On the other hand, at Google, how many journalists are there?

Some would like to impose a model in which others capture the value created by some. By global players who do not finance the production of your content, and who refuse to pay you. It is a model that is neither sustainable, equitable, nor acceptable. And it is the whole purpose of the neighbouring right to remedy this.

Together with the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister and you professionals, we have fought to have it adopted at European level, through the "copyright" directive. Then, in France, we struggled to create it quickly. I am proud that we were the first to transpose the directive on this point.  I want to thank the French Parliament and in particular Senator David ASSOULINE and MP Patrick MIGNOLA, for mobilising so quickly.

But unfortunately, the fight is not over. Because the platforms to which this law is addressed think they can free themselves from it. They think they can escape a fair sharing of value. Let me tell you something: they're wrong. Yes: they are wrong! A company, however big it may be, cannot get away from the law. Google's refusal to pay you is unacceptable. I told their leaders: it is imperative to resume negotiations, under the law. I also regret the method used by Facebook, which has announced its intention to apply French law but has changed its conditions for displaying press content posted by users before even starting any negotiations with you.

It is at the European level that we have defended the neighbouring right.  It was at the European level that we adopted it.  And it is at the European level that we will enforce it. In this matter, Europe is our best protection. In the face of the digital giants, it is even our only effective and credible protection. Faced with them, we will only be able to stand up to them if we stand together.  They may not need to offer their services in one or two countries.  They may be able to give up a few tens of millions of users.

But they cannot turn their backs on Europe.  They cannot get rid of 700 million potential users. Then yes, we will have to be united in this fight. European states will have to be, and so will European publishers.

The States, first. We will work together to build a common response with the other Member States. They will have to transpose the directive. And our legislation can inspire them. If we find that our law is not sufficient, we can supplement it. The audiovisual bill, which I presented last Thursday in the Council of Ministers, could be a good vehicle.

The only possible answer is union. The President of the Republic and the German Chancellor recalled this at the Franco-German Council of Ministers in Toulouse on October 16. Their position led to a joint statement in which France and Germany reaffirmed their determination to implement the European Copyright Directive and ensure full compliance with these rules. I put this subject on the agenda at the Council of European Ministers of Culture last month in Brussels.

Everyone is very mobilised, as shown by the many speeches made by the other Member States, with the exception of Poland, which has always opposed the text. My Croatian counterpart, whose country will hold the next presidency of the European Union, has also assured me of his commitment.

This mobilisation, of course, is not a mobilisation of Europe against the United States, as some people would have us believe. The neighbouring right is not an anti-American fight. We are not trying to fight American platforms just because they are American. But because it is our sovereignty that is at stake. All States share this concern to protect our sovereignty. Including the United States. They, too, are taking up this reflection on platform regulation.

States are beginning to legislate, fearing the concentration of power in the hands of these companies, their harmful influence in the democratic field, and the risk that they will kill innovation. California has adopted a privacy policy based on the DGMP. A facial recognition ban law has been passed in New York State and California. And several investigations relating to competitive balances are underway at the federal level.

Competitive balances that are clearly not achieved today. The balance of power created by the platforms is unfair to you. They capture too much of the advertising revenue and weaken your resources. They may unilaterally decide to modify the conditions for displaying or referencing content. Like Facebook, which last year made an opaque and unpredictable change to its algorithm. They can thus deprive you of access to your audience, and undermine the diversity offered to Internet users. And when they launch connected objects, how can they ensure fair treatment of all content, when they are producing it themselves.

The question arises for voice assistants, in particular, who may impose certain information content rather than others. These platforms, which have such a significant market share that they can control access and the functioning of their entire market...

We must regulate these "structuring" platforms which cannot be avoided when we want to access information online. We must impose specific rules on them, without preventing innovation or the emergence of national champions. In the face of them, we must reaffirm our sovereignty.

This issue must be on the agenda of the new European Commission. Its new President, Ursula VON DER LEYEN, spoke out in favour of a digital agenda that promotes innovation and ensures that digital platforms are empowered.  I met with the Vice-President and Commissioner for Competition, Margrethe VESTAGER, to discuss the next steps together.

I am delighted with his voluntarism on the subject. Like the European Union Vice President, I believe that the time has come to update the competition rules in the EU.  We owe it to the European citizens, to the freedom of everyone, and cultural diversity, that is our wealth.

France will make proposals to the Commission on these subjects. Our publishers and news agencies have already joined forces to file a complaint with the Competition Authority. The Commission has decided to launch an investigation into the new rules Google is applying to the presentation of French press content in its search engine.  An investigation to establish whether they are abusing their dominant position on the market, or whether they have practised what French law calls abuse of economic dependence. And who, if so, will propose the means to remedy it.

The European Commission is very attentive to the work carried out by the Competition Authority, which plays a fundamental pioneering role here.

Yes, France will be a source of proposals, because there are solutions. The solution is to demand more transparency and loyalty in the relationships between actors. The answer is to guarantee users' freedom of choice.

The solution is to demand:

  • better sharing of data access,
  • an obligation of transparency of algorithms,
  • or a guarantee of service interoperability, so that no platform can set up an access barrier to service.

I met with European press publishers, too. I called them to stand together, demonstrate, as they did in the negotiation of the text, a spirit of unity and solidarity, and come together in the face of this threat because the answers and solutions will not be obtained without you, without your union, without your mobilisation. Fair compensation from the major digital platforms will only be achieved through collective bargaining.

This need to play together does not only concern the press. More broadly, it affects all cultural and creative industries.  They face the same problem, the same competition from platforms. And they will have to answer with the same union to weigh.

This question will be at the heart of the reflection on the structuring of this sector around joint projects. Together with the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves LE DRIAN and the Minister for the Economy and Finance Bruno LE MAIRE

, we launched the "Estate General of the Cultural and Creative Industries" two weeks ago to address this challenge.

What is at stake is your freedom. It is one of the conditions of democracy. This is not a new observation. As early as September 11 1848, in his speech to the French Constituent Assembly, Victor HUGO defended that your freedom is "no less sacred, no less essential than universal suffrage. The day when we would see the freedom of the press diminish," he added, "it would be in France, it would be in Europe, it would be in the whole of civilisation the effect of a torch that is dying out! »

We cannot let this torch die. And we will not make it die. Not in France, not in Europe, not in the world. If we want to keep it on, we have to rekindle its flame. If we want to protect the press, its independence, its freedom, if we want to allow you to inform, we must preserve your means. Thanks to the “neighbouring right”.

On this issue, Europe is expected to move in the right direction. France is expected to do the same. The world is watching us. So let's rise to the occasion. Let us be at the forefront of this challenge. This is needed in order to ensure a fair sharing of value, and rebalance it, to the benefit of publishers, news agencies, journalists, and ensure your future.

I will need all of you to mobilise. You can count on me to stand by you.

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