LONDON: A so-called right-wing television channel in France hit record viewing numbers in May, which has prompted concern among the country’s more liberal supporters ahead of next year’s presidential election.
The statistics could be a boost for the far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, the Guardian newspaper reported.
CNews, a Paris-based channel, runs debate programs involving renowned conservative commentators and also broadcasts news bulletins that focus specifically on crime and immigration.
The free-to-air channel is part of the Canal+ Group, owned by French industrialist Vincent Bolloré, and has been dubbed a “French Fox News.”
That claim is wrong, according to Serge Nedjar, the channel’s director-general, who said there was no comparison to the Rupert Murdoch-owned Fox News in America, which is known for its support of former US President Donald Trump.
“We are not affiliated to any party or any politician,” Nedjar said. “We are light years away from that.”
CNews has doubled its viewership over the past two years, a rise which has been spearheaded by the “Face à L’Info” program. That show attracts 1 million viewers per episode, fronted by Eric Zemmour, an essayist, polemicist and journalist for the newspaper “Le Figaro.”
It also drew more viewers compared to its main rival, BFMTV, and has become France’s most-watched rolling news channel across several weekday slots.
Zemmour has criminal convictions for racial and religious hate speech. He said, “most drug dealers are black and Arab” in 2010 and likened Muslims living in France to “colonizers” in 2019.
France’s media regulator fined CNews €200,000 ($244,000) for broadcasting comments made by Zemmour on child migrants and France’s asylum system, which it ruled was hate speech.
French media experts are divided on whether CNews’ focus on national security and terrorism, as well as immigration and crime, is shaping the political debate ahead of the 2022 elections. Or if it is reflecting a steady shift to the right by French voters over the past decade.
Recent polls in France indicate that incumbent president Emmanuel Macron is likely to face off with Le Pen in next spring’s election.
Le Pen heads the National Rally party — formerly the National Front — a far-right anti-immigration and Eurosceptic party, which has seen a growth in support in France since she replaced her father as leader in 2011.