Principles and objectives
The Fonds pour une Presse Libre (“Fund for a free press”, the Free Press Fund) is a non-profit body with the declared aim “to defend freedom of information, the pluralism of the press and the independence of journalism; to contribute to the protection of the right to know and the freedom to say in the age of the digital revolution; to promote journalism of public interest, upholding humanist values, at the service of the common good and the equality of rights, the rejection of discrimination and the refusal of injustices” (as detailed in the 14 September 2019 edition of France’s official legal bulletin, the Journal officiel de la République française).
The creation of the Fonds pour une Presse Libre (FPL) was founded in the belief that at a time of major changes brought about by the digital revolution, the freedom to inform is presented with a double threat from economic and authoritarian powers. In face of the increased concentration of media and the loss of economic independence among editorial structures, the FPL seeks to help the development of a free press, which is one that has no dependency towards private interests or those of state authorities.
1. A mission of public interest
The activity of the FPL is in the spirit of public interest, as expressed in the constitution of the French republic, and which was also consolidated by the European Court of Human Rights.
“Free communication of thoughts and opinions is one of the most precious rights of man,” proclaims Article 11 of the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen.
“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers,”, proclaims Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers”, proclaims Article 10 of the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights.
A principle with constitutional value, recognised by jurisprudence, the freedom of the press is a fundamental freedom which is all the more precious in that the practice of it is one of the essential guarantees for the respect of other rights and freedoms. The exercise of press freedom infers the pluralism of the media which is, as described by France’s Constitutional Council in an 11 October 1984 ruling, « in itself an objective of constitutional value ».
In that same ruling, the Council noted that « the free communication of ideas and opinions, guaranteed by Article 11 of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen in 1789, will not be effective if the public does not have a sufficient number of publications with different leanings and characters ».
The Council concluded that “the objective to be met is that the readers, who are among the essential addressees of the freedom proclaimed by Article 11 of the Declaration of 1789, are able to exercise their free choice, without either private interests or those of the authorities being able to substitute their own decisions, nor that this can be a subject of negotiation.”
As a result, this pluralism implies the respect of the independence of editorial structures which must be able to fulfil their mission of public interest, at the service of citizens’ right to know, without being submitted to pressure from private interests or those of the authorities (and allowing them, in France, to work freely within the strict framework, as it stands and is applied today, of the country’s law of 29 July 1881 defining the freedom of the press).
2. Public-interest journalism
The objective of the FPL is to contribute to the exercise, the respect and the protection of these democratic principles and fundamental freedoms at a time of major changes brought about by the digital revolution.
The FPL will act to ensure that the digital revolution does not become synonymous with a weakening of the plurality of the press, nor with the loss of editorial independence, nor a weakening of freedom of information. That is why its actions are notably to the benefit of the online press, and that of news gathering and reporting in particular.
The FPL will also promote journalism of public interest, one of humanist values, at the service of the common good and equal rights, and which rejects discrimination and also refuses injustices.
The promotion of journalism that serves the public interest implies, to cite a 1944 declaration by France’s National Council of the Resistance, the defence of “its independence with regard to financial powers”. That is why the FPL will make a priority in assisting those media and editorial structures that are financed only by their public audience, and which therefore do not have submissive relations with private interests which control their capital, and which are also not dependent upon the authorities through excessive recourse to state subsidies.
The contributions of all kinds that are given to the Fund, in a non-binding and irrevocable manner, will serve this action of public interest, namely:
- to support the plurality of the press, and in particular the pluralism of news media outlets;
- to protect the independence of journalism, in particular regarding those media which are controlled by their editorial teams;
- to help press organisations financed only by their audience to find viable economic solutions;
- to support journalistic initiatives;
- to lead campaigns of information or solidarity in face of any eventual threats to press freedom;
- to facilitate, organise and finance meetings, debates and exchanges on the issues of these fundamental freedoms;
- to contribute to the existence of public locations dedicated to the promotion and defence of the right to know and the freedom to say.
3. Diverse means of action
The resources of the FPL will notably be used in the following fields of action:
- the taking of a minority stake in independent press enterprises which either already exist or are in the planning stage;
- the granting of subsidies or subsidised loans to such enterprises;
- the financial support, through subsidies, of specific, one-off moves made in support of freedom of the press and freedom of information (which can include seminars, training courses, forums, information campaigns, exhibitions, symposiums and conferences);
- the providing of advisory services to an independent press enterprise either free of charge or at cost price;
- the organising of networks for exchanging views on, and in support of, the independent press;
- assistance in the representation of the independent press before the public authorities and administration;
- the support and financing of all types of initiatives of public interest in the field of freedom of opinion, and the development of all types of innovative actions of public interest which have a philanthropic, educational, social or cultural character and which contribute to highlighting the cause of the independence and pluralism of the press;
- the raising of awareness among citizens, public authorities and private actors of the issues surrounding freedom of information and the independence of the press.
4. Independent of Mediapart
The FPL was created on the initiative of the co-founders and staff of the online journal of news and investigative journalism Mediapart, and who are brought together under the Association pour le Droit de Savoir (ADS) – which translates as “the association for the right to know”.
In its mission of public interest, the FPL guarantees the protection of Mediapart’s irreversible independence, by safeguarding its capital in a structure called the Société pour la protection de l’indépendance de Mediapart (SPIM), which is entirely owned by the FPL.
Under the statutes (articles) of the ADS, those of the FPL and those of the SPIM, the FPL is guaranteed total independence from Mediapart :
the tax-exempted donations received by the FPL are used exclusively for the requirements of its mission of public interest, and under no circumstances can these be used for Mediapart’s benefit;
Mediapart, on the other hand, is bound to make a yearly financial contribution to the FPL, which is calculated according to Mediapart’s annual results;
no individual who exercises a managerial or financial management post at Mediapart can be appointed to a management role within the FPL;
only two non-managerial staff of Mediapart, and who include one journalist, sits on the FPL board, whose five other members are chosen, as set out in the statutes of the FPL, “for their attachment to fundamental rights, and notably the freedom and independence of the press”;
while the FPL, via the SPIM, cannot interfere in any manner to define the editorial line of Mediapart, the latter prohibits itself from any interference in the choices made and decisions taken by the FPL.
5. A thoroughly transparent management
The Governing Board of the FPL is composed of seven members who are appointed for a one-year term, which is renewable. It is assisted by a Strategic Council composed of at least three individuals from outside the FPL, who are chosen, as set out by the statutes of the FPL, « with regard to their skills, expertise and their attachment to fundamental rights and notably the freedom and independence of the press ».
“Publicity is the safeguard of the people” : that declaration by Jean Sylvain Bailly, the first mayor of the Paris Commune, speaking on August 13th 1789, is the line of conduct that the Fund undertakes to uphold in its mission, in the name of the right to know all that is of public interest.
The FPL rigorously ensures the transparency of its activities, published on its website, with permanent public access to its texts of reference, statutes and driving principles, and other documents including its yearly financial reports and those of its activities.
The Code of Ethics of the FPL precisely details the deontological rules and moral principles that are incumbent upon its administrators, its teams and the decisions it takes.