SPEECH published on 17 Jan 2022

EBU President and France Télévisions CEO Delphine Ernotte-Cunci's welcome speech at Télés, visions publiques!

EBU President and France Télévisions CEO Delphine Ernotte-Cunci's welcome speech at Télés, visions publiques!
Delphine Ernotte-Cunci

EBU President and France Télévisions CEO Delphine Ernotte-Cunci welcomes participants to Télés, visions publiques! – a day of discussion on the future of public television in Europe.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I’m delighted to be here today, speaking to you from this beautiful concert hall. Please accept my best wishes for this new year. May it be pleasant, bear the hallmark of freedom and bring with it a note of nonchalance! 

First of all, my heartfelt thanks to my European and French colleagues, who will be speaking today from Paris or via video link. Our challenges are identical, whether we are located in France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Sweden or elsewhere.

My thanks also to the many contributors who will be part of today’s conversation. Each one of you contribute in a way which is unique and invaluable. 

A few days ago, France assumed the rotating presidency of the European Union. Concurrently, it seemed important to me to bring us together to deliberate over what underpins the ‘public vision’ of our television service. We were keen to proceed with the event today despite the worsening pandemic situation, because we urgently need to act in unison.

Very recently, ratings by Reporters Sans Frontières revealed that, on a planet-wide scale, there have never been so many journalists in prison. In 2021, 46 journalists were murdered, the vast majority “knowingly targeted and eliminated”. In connection with this, I’d like to honour the memory of Gilles Jacquier, our reporter from France 2, who died exactly 10 years ago in Homs, Syria. Freedom of the press has never been so badly undermined, attacked and threatened in the 21st century as it was last year.

We must therefore urgently safeguard our European ethos, built around plurality of opinion and freedom of the press. France has always been at the forefront in fighting for freedom of expression, the right to inform and journalistic freedom, and defending a pan-European culture that is energetic, independent, multifaceted and audacious. These same principles are foundational to the European Union. They lie at the heart of our democratic ideal and our history.

“Memories may divide but history draws us together,” writes Benjamin Stora. Our European memories differ between countries, between regions. But our history – centred on democracy – is shared. Our public broadcasters are part of this democratic narrative, by virtue of their reach, freedom and independence. Against the frightening shift in the media which is threatening our democracies today, we are the best response for safeguarding the future.

Maybe over the Christmas holidays you managed to catch Don’t Look Up. It’s not a European film, nor viewable at the cinema or on linear TV. Still, it’s an excellent parody about our reaction, or should I say our failure to react, to the climate emergency. Our own personal meteorite – potentially also a ‘perfect storm’ – that is threatening to catch us unawares is this problem of distorted media coverage.

Today, three French people out of four admit they can no longer get a clear idea of current affairs. These worrying figures should serve as a wake-up call for us all. And that is precisely one of the main issues under examination as part of today’s conversations.

The first reason for this upheaval is the proliferation of social media. When they first emerged, people hoped they would inspire freedom. Today they could be described as a cluster bomb. We all remember the aspirations encouraged by the Arab Spring and other popular revolutions thanks to digital technology. But it is now time to open our eyes and perform an honest assessment of their impact on our democracies.

One item of fake news circulates six times faster on social media than any other category of information. Courageous whistleblowers like Frances Hauguen have spoken up to warn us about the deliberate strategies pursued by some actors to polarise the debate solely for the purposes of making money. Through an abusive and algorithmic use of data – what Bruno Patino rightly describes in his latest book as a ‘dicdataship’ – they lock citizens into echo chambers, at loggerheads with one another.

By serving as a sounding board for untruths, by giving the false impression that all words are equal, social media undermines the bedrock of trust in journalistic endeavours and all forms of expert opinion. It erodes trust in the information that is delivered to the public.

The second is the emergence in Europe of news channels ‘in name only’. Some have become vectors for opinions – when they actually offer more than one opinion. By staking their future on frenzied debates and reneging on their duty to inform, they dishonour the founding values that underpin high-quality, reliable news – namely plurality of opinion, a sense of perspective and the exchanging of viewpoints.

You see, news is not commercial content. Those who view it from this angle have every interest in sparking confrontation and making the information go viral as soon as possible. High-quality news is priceless because it shapes our outlook on the world, with all its complexity and nuances. It means debating without quarrelling, listening without belittling. It takes the long view in its investigations. This is how public service media stands out. This is the work of our 40,000 journalists across Europe, the world’s largest newsroom, on a daily basis.

Meanwhile, throughout Europe, stinging attacks are being spearheaded against freedom of expression, journalistic independence and public sector media.

“Extraordinary damage was inflicted on the practice of free and independent journalism,” stated the Council of Europe recently in its annual report. Assaults on journalists, especially women, and attempts to harass and intimidate journalists have risen by 40% in a year.

These attacks have often gone hand in hand with direct threats against publicly owned media from the ruling parties in the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Hungary and Poland. Their independence hangs in the balance, as does their ability to operate unimpeded by politicians and to provide unbiased news.

Currently, two methods are used to undermine our reputation.

The first is a nostalgia harking back to the days of state-controlled media. Even on our European continent, we can witness some of those in power dreaming of regaining control over public service media and keeping those broadcasters in their grip, making them instruments of propaganda. All over the world, repossession of public broadcasting is often the very first action carried out by authoritarian regimes.

The second is the fallacy that everything can be privately owned. We’ve seen this fanciful notion emerge in elections across Europe: with the Swiss referendum; around the time of the Brexit vote. The goal is no longer simply to give privately owned channels a helping hand; some speak of getting rid of us altogether.

A media landscape without public broadcasters does exist: in the United States. But let’s get one thing clear: is this the blueprint we’d like to adopt for our continent? A media landscape where only partisan media prospers and where speculation outclasses rational thinking? No need to go into detail here. Simply recall the images of the Capitol Attack precisely one year ago! 

All over the world, whenever public broadcasting is being assailed, democracy and plurality of opinion also take a hit.

Because publicly owned television is popular. This is television which informs, builds up and emancipates. This is television made in the image of people, bringing them together.

Faced with these major challenges, Europe is no longer naive. Today we are fortunate to have an ambitious European Commission on which we can count, and I would particularly like to thank the European Commissioner for the Internal Market, Thierry Breton, who will be speaking in a moment. Major legislation is being put together to properly regulate Europe’s digital space that will safeguard our cultural, digital and technological sovereignty against the non-European behemoths, that will ringfence our democracy, and foster conditions for renewed growth.

I’d like to take this opportunity to laud the creation of ARCOM on 1 January. Its president, Roch-Olivier Maistre, will be taking the podium late morning.

Publicly owned television is one of the pillars of our democracy and one of its hallmarks. Our independence from politicians and business interests and our unique position on the broadcasting landscape are fundamental to maintaining the trust bestowed on us by the public.

Upon this firm foundation we will continue countering disinformation and manipulation, and the culture that promotes needless arguments and speculation. With a single proviso: to preserve a common future and maintain a universal audience. I’m convinced that today’s conversation will offer up answers.

French people watch television for an average of 3 hours and 40 minutes every day. And more than eight out of ten tune in to France Télévisions on a weekly basis.

Social media platforms erect barriers and silos; television breaks them down. It brings together families as parents and children can share the same emotions when watching a programme. It creates territorial cohesion by giving glimpses into cities and villages, urban centres and outlying neighbourhoods, our different regions, and into overseas departments and territories. It brings together an entire nation at key election times, or around major news and sporting events.

In Europe, commercial channels will never play the singular role of granting free, universal access to the arts, cinema, literature, shows and concerts. We eliminate the notion of distance and deconstruct geographical and social barriers. One-third of French people never go to the cinema. But how many have never been to the theatre, to the opera, or to the ballet? Yet 13 million tune in every week to watch Culturebox.

This democratisation of culture is our strength. We are honoured to have Roselyne Bachelot, Minister of Culture and a keen supporter of this goal, with us this afternoon.

We do not treat our audiences as advertising targets but as enlightened citizens. Instead of the conformity encouraged by social media, European television channels are the primary supporters of a lively, diverse cultural scene.

We believe the arts and creative industries represent part of the future, with close to 8 million Europeans working in this field every day. This creative expertise travels across borders and disseminates our influence throughout the world.

The arts are not a burden for the public purse but a way of ensuring a dynamic economy. Indeed, culture will save us! Moreover, as we showed in a recent study, publicly owned television has a multiplier effect on the economy. All across Europe, one euro invested in publicly owned television produces no less than three euros worth of GDP, in whatever country.

I firmly believe that the arts and creative industries are the pathway to a new type of self-reinforcing growth. 

The European project was birthed out of a genuine democratic, people-focused ethos. Jean Monnet set the tone for his undertaking when he stated that “We are not bringing together countries; rather, we are uniting people”.

Europe’s public broadcasters are working hard – more so than all other media organizations – to bring people together and tap into our common heritage. More than ever, our societies need to pull together. And we are determined to aim for ever-greater achievements within the scope of our remit. 

In May 1968, many of you had not yet been born, but one slogan on a wall said, “Wake up, switch off the TV”!”. Nowadays, I feel like saying “Wake up, turn on the TV!”.

I wish you all a successful day full of thought-provoking discussions. Thank you again for attending.

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Claire Rainford
Manager of Communications

+41 22 717 2321