Luxembourg is of one of the smallest states in the European Union (2,586 km²). Its population is also similar to that of an urban area in a large country (645,000 inhabitants in 2022). Since the late nineteenth century, the economic and demographic development of Luxembourg has been structured on de-bordered human, trade, and capital flows, due to its small size requiring a vital search for foreign resources and markets. Over the past three decades, this development has entered a new phase, with exponential demographic growth (an additional 261,000 people since 1991) determined by a global dynamic service economy, leading to an influx of workers coming from 180 countries. Consequently, half the country’s resident population is now composed of foreigners who do not have voting rights in state-national elections; the great majority of whom are also unwilling to register for local elections. The proportion of foreign residents is even higher in the urban communes, where key media newsrooms are located — Luxembourg City (71%) and Esch-sur-Alzette (57%) (Statec, 2023). In parallel, it can be noted that around half of the workers employed in Luxembourg, and thus dependent on Luxembourg legislation (224,000 people), reside in neighbouring Belgium, France and Germany (Statec, 2022a). This situation increases the number of people who secure Luxembourg’s economic functioning, but with no right to elect its political party representatives passing laws directly concerning these workers. Luxembourgers have become dominant only in the age groups at the periphery of the economy: youngsters and pensioners. However, the definition of a global and regional Luxembourg beyond borders has not led to a de-bordered representative Luxembourg democracy. One may then wonder how the media ownership in Luxembourg, the structure of its news distribution, and the legal frameworks of the market reflect the economic globalisation of the country and its standing state-national bordered democracy.
Luxembourg has a large number of media outlets circulating information and participating in defining democratic public opinion. This number has increased over the past decades. It partly reflects the global and metropolitan process affecting the Grand Duchy, notably with the appearance of two genres of media outlets. First, two economic and liberal magazines targeting and portraying the international business elite in French (Paperjam) and in English (Delano). Second, a French-printed free daily attracting young and middle-aged commuters from different social and cultural backgrounds on the move in the urban regional space (L‘essentiel). In contrast to the other media in Luxembourg, both Paperjam and L‘essentiel are keen to show that their audience is located in de-bordered and regional Greater Luxembourg, including the residential areas of the French-speaking cross-border workers. Furthermore, other media have developed content in multiple languages. We can note a socio-cultural media outlet diffusing content in 10 languages (The radio station ARA), online media in French, English and Portuguese directly associated with the daily newspaper Luxemburger Wort (Virgule.lu, luxtimes.lu, contacto.lu), while the television news bulletins of RTL can be watched with subtitles in French and the RTL website offers content in different languages. This is a linguistic diversification in a market where the media targeting Luxembourgers has tended to use two other languages: German for the paid and print press (e.g. Tageblatt and Luxemburger Wort) and Luxembourgish — the vernacular Frankish language — for radio and television programs (e.g. RTL and 100,7).
The multiplication of media outlets in different languages reflects the internationalisation of the Grand Duchy’s population. However, the structure of the media ownership and control in the country is relatively stable and linked to the long-term Luxembourg and state-bordered democracy. First, one can note that most media outlets and/or media editing companies have a director, a manager, and/or a board president who are embedded into Luxembourg national citizenry and mastering Luxembourgish. Second, one can see the longstanding importance of national political parties and key national institutions behind the companies editing most newspapers. There is no direct and informed control over the editorial line of the newspapers by these organisations. However, editing companies often belong to or are associated with non-business agents intervening in the Luxembourg public sphere. For instance, the Editpress company (editing notably the Tageblatt newspaper) is under the control of the OGBL centre-left trade union, while the LSAP centre-left party also holds shares in this company. RTL is owned by the German holding company Bertelsmann (although with Luxembourgers in the managerial governance of the outlets targeting residents) and also indirectly involved in party politics. The president of the board of RTL’s CLT-UFA entity, controlling the RTL outlets in the Grand Duchy, must be a Luxembourg citizen and reside in the country, while the shareholders in this company, nominated by the state, have generally been selected within the three dominant political parties (Christian democrat, liberal and socialist) with one from the political opposition.
The media market remains organised in the long term based on three editorial pillars. First, the RTL group based in Luxembourg City, with a television news bulletin (RTL Télé Lëtzebuerg), radio program (RTL Radio Lëtzebuerg) and website (rtl.lu) that attract the largest audience in their sectors, with 90,000, 146,300 and 192,300 daily viewers/listeners, respectively, in 2022. Second, Mediahuis Luxembourg (previously called Saint Paul) with a main media outlet produced in Luxembourg City (the Luxemburger Wort) that is characterised by the prominent attraction of its print version compared with its website (respectively, 121,300 daily readers and 88,100 daily users in the same year). Third, the Editpress company, with a main symbolic and historical newspaper, Tageblatt, produced in Esch-sur-Alzette (the capital city of the industrial south) that was far less attractive in 2022 in print and online (respectively, 26,100 readers 20,200 users) (Ilres, 2022). Both Mediahuis Luxembourg and Editpress have developed a business strategy of ownership diversification in the Grand Duchy (TV magazines, other newspapers, music radio stations targeting the youth, etc.). This diversification has enabled them to increase or stabilise their advertising revenue in a small market where media economics have been strongly based on this commercial aspect — as in the US and Canada, and far more than most European countries (OECD, 2011). However, each group has tended to develop its own path. Editpress has increased its business deals with foreign media companies while retaining 50% of shares in the companies created to manage these outlets in the Luxembourg market. For example, Edita for L‘essentiel is owned partly by the Swiss TX Group (previously called Tamedia); L‘essentiel has a public more important than the Luxemburger Wort in the print media if we include cross-border workers, and its Internet audience is equivalent to that of rtl.lu. Saint-Paul tended more to diversify its output based on its own capital until it was absorbed by the Belgian group Mediahuis in 2020. However, the board of Mediahuis Luxembourg is still chaired and directed by Luxembourg citizens. Furthermore, the website of Mediahuis Luxembourg signals a continued belief in the values of the past owner, the archdiocese of Luxembourg: the social doctrine of Catholicism.
The absorption of Saint-Paul by Mediahuis, as well as other events at the turn of the decade, show a certain fragility of print press economics. These other events include the ending in 2019 of Le Jeudi, a French-language quality weekly newspaper edited by Editpress for more than two decades, and the cessation of the print version of the liberal daily Lëtzebuerger Journal in 2021. All the media outlets in the market face the same economic paradox. They are all located in a small market, with a growing number of residents and cross-border workers possessing among the highest revenues worldwide. This can consequently attract advertisers marketing goods and services in the residential space of these potential consumers. However, it is a very fragmented market, with 180 different national groups involving language barriers, diverging news agenda interests, a lack of broad knowledge and interest in local and national news related to Luxembourg, and facilitated access to media of countries of origin for these national groups. For instance, the French TV channels TF1, France 2 and M6 do not present news about Luxembourg, but were regularly watched by a cumulative daily audience of 96,500 people in 2022 — more than that of RTL Tele Lëtzebuerg (Ilres, 2022). The economic situation for the press has become even more severe with the increasing tendency for people to be informed for free, online or in print (free dailies). Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic might have led to a contraction of advertising resources. The media market can nevertheless count on the support of the Luxembourg state.
Four main state policies have been adopted to support the media market in the long term. First, reduced VAT, as in many European countries. Second, the state is a provider of advertising revenue in the press. The most circulated paid newspapers have been the top beneficiaries of this; however, this does not mean that the more peripheral dailies have been ignored. For instance, the communist Zeitung vum Lëtzebuerger Vollek newspaper, read daily by fewer than 5,000 people, was given more than 0.9 million euros between 2014 and 2021 (Gouvernement du Grand-Duché de Luxembourg, 2021). Third, the state has developed a long-term policy of direct support for the press to secure its plurality. This support targets the paid and print press, based on the number of printed pages in the past. It evolved in 2021, notably with support given to print, online, paid and free press based on the number of employed professional reporters and on a basis of 30,000 euros per year and per full-time equivalent journalist. The total subvention for direct support to the press was 10.4 million euros in 2022 (Gouvernement du Grand-Duché de Luxembourg, 2023). Out of all the European countries, the Grand Duchy gives the most support to its press industry through direct funding in relative terms if we consider the very small size of its market. It delivers financial support equivalent to that attributed by the Austrian and Belgian federal states for their respective and medium-size media markets (News Media Europe, 2022). Fourth, the state has developed conventions with three audiovisual groups to secure public service programs: the private company RTL, the public radio station 100,7 and the associative radio ARA. For example, the state assumes responsibility for the deficit of the RTL television, radio and digital public service content up to a certain sum. The latest convention, signed in 2022 for the years 2024 to 2030, reveals that the state will give the private group more than 11 million euros a year at the beginning of the period, and up to nearly 15 million by the end of it. This important and direct public support by the state can be explained with four reasons. First, a long-term political choice of the state to support its media sector. Second, the relatively limited number of media outlets to be supported, compared with larger countries. Third, the wealth of the state. Fourth, the difficulty to maintain a plural media environment in a small and linguistically diverse market without strong public intervention.
The print and paid press can be found in the whole country at different sales outlets and is available from north to south, although not all communes have a newsagent. By comparison, the printed free daily (L‘essentiel) is circulated in three main ways. First, like all urban free dailies, in the train, tram and bus station network connecting the different urban locations (including some in their neighbouring borderlands communes in the current case). Second, and less common, Luxembourg petrol stations, as most commuters use a car to travel to work and the fuel price in the country is cheaper than abroad. Third, other Luxembourg locations where there is a high density of potential consumers for brief news and adverts (shopping centres, entrances to business centres, etc.). The audiovisual content produced in the country also reaches the whole of Luxembourg. Most residents can access newspapers and audiovisual content online thanks to the internet market. This is plural, but still dominated by the public corporation (Post Luxembourg). In 2019, only 3% of residents between 16 and 74 years of age did not use the Internet (with differences depending on age groups) (Statec, 2020), and some 62% of internet users are on social networks. Facebook is by far the most used social network among residents, ahead of Instagram (82% and 58%, respectively, of social network users) (Statec, 2022b). There is no available survey data for the proportion of residents using social networks to access the news output of the professional media employing journalists. However, considering the proportion of people on Facebook and Instagram — and based on existing data for other EU countries on the overall practice of these digital formats and the proportion of people using them to access news content — we can estimate that at least 5% of internet users consume news contents on social networks.
The legal framework offers different insights into the transparency of the media sector. Two types of laws govern this. There are general laws following EU directives and concerning all businesses. First, the 2002 Law on the Trade and Companies Register (TCR), requiring all companies to provide up-to-date information, notably about their status and administrators. Second, the 2019 law establishing the Register of Beneficial Owners (RBO), with the primary goal of being a tool to fight against money laundering and the financing of terrorist activities. Following a decision of the European Court of Justice of Luxembourg in 2022, aimed at the protection personal data in the RBO, access has been denied to the public. This limits the transparency of media ownership, as it does in every other European country. There are also a series of laws specifically framing print, audiovisual and digital media. They have a number of main objectives in relation to the definition of a democratically mediated public sphere. First, they aim at protecting the freedom of the journalistic profession and securing its legitimacy as a key community for the proper functioning of a liberal democracy. Second, they precisely define the terms on which a company can be considered as part of the media informational sector. Third, they fix the basis for the direct support by the state for these media, but not the amount given by each ministry and commune in terms of advertising revenue. Fourth, they are related to the transparency and concentration of media ownership. The laws on these issues can nevertheless vary, depending on the media segment. The levels of sanctions are also not always strong. For instance, the print press must confirm the identity of its shareholders in its column once a year, but only shareholders with at least 25% of the shares. There is no sanction in case of non-compliance with this legal requirement. The law on the concentration of ownership concerns the electronic media segment but not the print media, and does not prevent the crosscutting of concentration between different types of media segments that is substantial in the small market of the Grand Duchy.
Important changes affecting the media economics of Luxembourg have taken place over the past three decades. For example, the exponential growth of foreign residents not using the traditional language of media circulation among Luxembourgers and the internationalisation of the economic capital in the media industry. However, these changes have not structurally transformed the managerial control of the media market. This is still in the hands of Luxembourgers and involves institutions embedded in the Luxembourg public sphere — for example, political parties, trade unions, and (up to 2020) the Catholic Church of Luxembourg — while the rest of the economy is ruled by an internationalised elite. The state has a clear stabilizing function in this market through its different forms of financial support. It has also developed a series of evolving laws, framing the milieu in terms of the business and the profession. One may come to the conclusion that the Luxembourg media market is organised mainly by Luxembourgers, for Luxembourgers, to secure the building-up of public opinion within a Luxembourg representative democracy by circulating news content in German and Luxembourgish, whereas the newer multilingual outlets have been created to exploit the advertising opportunities born out of the increasing population of foreign residents.
The link between media control, nationality, democracy and language in Luxembourg is, however, far more complex. First, there has been increasing porosity of the Luxembourg national community over the past decade, with the legal status of double citizenship and the possibility for foreigners with an ancestor who held a Luxembourg citizenship in 1900 to reclaim this citizenship. Some 86,811 people acquired Luxembourg citizenship between 2009 and 2021 (Statec, 2022c). They consequently represent around a quarter of the whole Luxembourg citizenry and have compulsory voting rights. Yet they do not necessarily use German or Luxembourgish as a daily language, but others, such as French, English, or Portuguese — hence the relevance of a multilingual media from a democratic representational democracy at the state-national level. Second, the managerial control of the media by Luxembourgers does not necessarily lead to the promotion of a contained Luxembourg national democratic order by the media. For instance, the dominant paid press among Luxembourgers (Luxemburger Wort and Tageblatt) and the institutions behind them (the Catholic church and left-wing trade unions) were in favor of a “yes” vote in the 2015 referendum aimed at allowing resident foreigners to vote in the national parliamentary election, which was rejected by three quarters of Luxembourgers. Third, the state-national representative democracy is not necessarily the only tool of state control in an internationalised Luxembourg. As seen in the past, cross-border workers — whose primary source of information in the Grand Duchy is the free daily, L‘essentiel — have fought and won against the Luxembourg state in the European Court of Justice of Luxembourg with regard to their access to some social allowances. Fourth, the traditional media outlets are progressively becoming the tip of an informational iceberg, with “digital born” citizens more and more using fragmented and interrelated social media to define their opinion. The “no” vote in the previously mentioned 2015 referendum was boosted online outside traditional media. More recent political and mediated debates in Luxembourg — such as the ones on the use of Luxembourgish language as the “primary” official language in 2017 (in a country which has three official languages: French, German and Luxembourgish) — were again promoted through social media. The media-related risk for democracy in a global Luxembourg is not necessarily linked to the high concentration of traditional media ownership in a small market, which cannot absorb a substantial number of editing companies. It is more related to the capacity of antagonistic and online discourse on language and imagined national communities to fix the agenda setting in the overall public sphere of a small Grand Duchy regrouping 180 nationalities and as many languages.
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Country report published in September 2023