An increasingly toxic election environment is playing out on the country's television sets, with the far-right enjoying the most coverage.

A study in France has revealed a strong tendency by the country's media to give far-right voices airtime and amplify their fringe views.

As the country heads towards presidential elections in a few months, many of the country's right-wing and far-right candidates have a stridently islamophobic view of Muslims. Many of the same candidates also regularly pepper their speeches with views against migrants and sweeping statements against minorities.

On Monday this week, a French court found the far-right presidential candidate Eric Zemmour guilty of racist hate speech for a televised tirade against unaccompanied child migrants in September 2020.

Speaking on one of France's biggest broadcasters, CNews channel, Zemmour said that child migrants were "thieves, killers, they're rapists. That's all they are. We should send them back".

Such views, however, haven't stopped France's media from giving him airtime to espouse those views further.

The study by the National Audiovisual Institute (NAI) found that all the main TV channels in France gave significant airtime to Zemmour in particular, sometimes even more than the country's President Emmanuel Macron.

BFMTV, the country's largest channel, dedicated almost 35 percent of its coverage for the upcoming presidential elections to Zemmour, a former TV host who has never held elected office before and is now a far-right firebrand.

In contrast, editors at the BFMTV decided to give just over 15 percent of airtime to the country's president. Whereas Marine Le Pen, a more established far-right candidate, received almost 15 percent.

The authors of the NAI study found that right-wing political events in the country received "privileged" coverage amongst the country's main TV channels.

Far-right candidates like Zemmour have proved to be such a ratings bonanza for the country's media that one major TV channel known as TPMP has dedicated almost 55 percent of its presidential coverage to the convicted politician.

"TPMP gives an overwhelming emphasis to the far right," said the report with more than 70 percent of references on the channel about far-right candidates.

The study went on to add that "overall, the centre, the right and the extreme right are very clearly mentioned more than the political families on the left."

France's other main TV channels, LCI and CNews, both devoted more than 25 percent and almost 40 percent of their coverage respectively to Zemmour.

Most other candidates barely broached the 20 percent mark of coverage; only Macron came close while other candidates trailed on single digits.

The NAI report says that 60 percent of the coverage on CNews was principally airing far-right views of candidates.

The meteoric rise of Zemmour, a far-right author and TV pundit, who enjoys just about 13 percent in the polls, has some worried that it shows how far the country has come in legitimising racist and Islamophobic views.

At 63 years old, Zemmour has been compared to former US President Donald Trump for his inflammatory and racist language against immigrants, Islam, Muslims and other minorities.

"Islam is quite the opposite of France," said Zemmour last year, going on to add that "Islam is not compatible with France."

That sentiment has resonated with an increasing number of French voters.

Even a candidate like Zemmour increasingly feels emboldened to speak out against minorities in the country, in part facilitated by the right-wing policies followed by Macron.

Macron's party over the past few years has incrementally ratcheted up his government's anti-Muslim policies, which has included the closure of Muslims schools, mosques, Islamic charities, organisations monitoring Islamophobia, publishing houses, and even pressuring mosques to sign a charter that forbids talking about discrimination and racism faced by the community.

With a background in journalism, the media-savvy Zemmour has sucked the political limelight, with media organisations lining up to platform him in a bid for higher ratings.

Activists in the country have laid the blame of the country's increasingly right-wing tilt at the politicians who have cynically deployed rhetoric against minorities in a bid to garner more votes and now contend with someone whose only governing platform is to target the most vulnerable communities in France. 

Source: TRT World