For her French studies research thesis, undergraduate Nina Peterson-Perlman explored the nature of French journalism.
When the time came to choose the topic for my French studies major research thesis, I knew I wanted somehow to incorporate my other lifelong passion: journalism. Inspired by my media law courses, I chose do a comparative analysis on French and American press law.
It is an interesting time for the latter, as members of the U.S. press fight for a federal shield law to protect journalists from having to name their sources in open court. Not all journalists are in favor of such a law, however, because it would require defining who a journalist is, introducing an additional and potentially undemocratic degree of government control over the journalism profession.
My initial research surprised me. I discovered that France already affords its journalists a degree of immunity from revealing their sources. But as I dug deeper and learned more about the nature of French journalism, I found a real lack of investigative reporting in the French press, especially when compared to what is found in American newspapers. It seemed paradoxical that French journalists were allowed more protection than their American counterparts. If French journalists didn’t do the kind of reporting that requires the use of anonymous sources, why would they go to great lengths to have secured their right to use them without government interference?
This question drove me to explore the historical, economic, political, literary, and linguistic reasons why investigative reporting never gained footing in France, and I attempted to explain why the French have nonetheless given their reporters more protection. I discovered that French journalists have an extremely close relationship with their sources—so much so that they are more likely to get information off the record than on, even on run-of-the-mill budget stories. Therefore, it’s really in those officials’ best interest that reporters be allowed to keep their sources secret.