A French newsroom on strike after the appointment of a ‘far-right’ editor

A French newsroom on strike after the appointment of a 'far-right' editor

In its 75 year history, le journal du dimancheFrance’s leading Sunday newspaper, almost never missing a publication. But it ground to a halt this week when an editor with an far-right track record was suddenly appointed just before the newspaper’s takeover by French billionaire Vincent Bollore, sparking a mass walkout of journalists and a firestorm in the French media. and political circles.

Mr Bollore, an industrialist often described as France’s Rupert Murdoch, has been steadily building a conservative media empire, run by a Fox-style news network, SeaNews. Appointment of editor, Geoffroy Lejeune, previously at a far-right magazine, who was fined racist insultsraised concerns that one of France’s most prominent newspapers could be turned into a right-wing platform.

“For the first time in France since Liberation, a major national media will be run by a far-right personality,” said one. open letter Published this week in Le Monde, France’s largest newspaper, it was signed by 400 academics, economists, cultural figures and left-leaning politicians supporting the JDD, as the paper is known. “This sets a dangerous precedent that concerns us all,” the letter said.

JDD journalists, known for their interviews with government leaders and largely centrist policy analysis, voted on Thursday to prolong their walkout in protest against the appointment of 34-year-old Mr. Lejeune, who was fired last year for Vallées Actuals. was fired from the magazine amid a controversy. Swami on editorial direction. The newspaper did not publish on Sundays, only the second time since its founding in 1948, and on Thursday evenings also the website was leading with the previous week’s news.

More than 1,000 people gathered at a theater in Paris this week at a rally organized by Reporters Without Borders, which denounced what it said was an attempt by Mr. Bollore to assert shareholder control over a newsroom.

France’s Minister of Culture Reema Abdul Malak considered this Twitter, He wrote, “Legally, JDD can be whatever it wants, as long as it respects the law.” “But how can one not be concerned as far as the values ​​of our republic are concerned?”

The episode has shed a new light on Mr. Bollore, a politically connected industrialist who comes from conservative Catholic circles in Brittany. His business empire includes the global advertising agency Havas, and he has a controlling stake in the media conglomerate Vivendi. He made his fortune in logistics and was known as the King of Africa for the vast trade deals that brought him wealth to the former French colonies.

After a corruption investigation into allegations that he helped the presidents of two African countries gain power in exchange for lucrative business contracts, Mr. Bollore has shifted his attention in recent years to his news media assets, which in France There is a prime opportunity. rich to influence political elections. More than four-fifths of the privately owned newspapers and TV and radio stations in France are owned by French or foreign billionaires or financiers. French state-supported television and radio stations occupy a prominent place in the media landscape.

Pending approval from the European Commission’s antitrust authorities, Mr Bollore is set this summer to secure his majority stake in Lagardere, a group that owns JDD and Paris Match magazine. This would make him the head of one of France’s largest broadcast and print empires.

Group chief executive Arnaud Lagardere, who essentially now reports to Mr Bollore, this week sought to allay concerns over the appointment of Mr Lejeune, who has issued no public statement other than that. short twitter message He said that it is an honor for him to hold this position. Mr Lagardere said the appointment decision, which he stressed was his own, was purely a business choice and was not intended to change the editorial line.

He told the newspaper Le Figaro, “The idea that the extreme right wing is doing its job in the newspaper is not real.” But he added: “JD must also know how to keep pace with changes in the world.”

Mr Lejeune wrote on Twitter last week that his appointment was a “huge honour” and that he would “put all my energy into the success of this challenge”. He did not respond to a request for comment.

Under Mr. Bollore, who typically avoids interviews and does not respond to requests for comment, many mainstream news outlets have transformed into right-wing platforms, analysts say, in line with his political commitments and a personal concern Christian culture is dying out in France. , he recently bought La France Catholique, a weak Christian newspaper with less than 10,000 subscribers, aimed to develop it.

The biggest change has been at CNews, once a 24-hour news network, where several journalists were fired or resigned in protest when Mr. Bollore became its boss in 2015. His replacements shifted the focus of debate to opinion segments and hot-button issues. , such as crime, immigration and the role of Islam in France.

The change catapulted CNews into the top-rated TV spot in France, a country that has seen a steady rise in influence among right-wing and far-right politicians, especially in last year’s presidential election.

CNews criticized people such as Eric Zemmour, a best-selling author known for far-right nationalism, including a conspiracy theory of a “great replacement” of white people in France by immigrants from Africa. Donald J. Inspired by Trump, Mr Zemmour became a TV star on SeaNews and ran against Presidents Emmanuel Macron and Marine Lepen in last year’s presidential election, ultimately unsuccessfully.

Similar right-wing leanings at Mr. Bollore’s other media holdings, including the Canal Plus news channel and Europe 1, a top-rated radio station, have led to the departure of reporters and editors.

So when JDD reporters learned of Mr. Lejeune’s appointment—not through an official announcement but through a news report—a mutiny broke out in the newsroom.

“Journalists are very concerned about media freedom,” said Julia Cage, an economist specializing in media at Sciences Po, a research university in Paris.

He said, “If you look at what has happened in the last 10 years, Bollore has destroyed the media he bought, and has used them to push a radical right-wing line, anti-minority rights, and anti-Catholic point of view.” Have done.” “In that sense, he has become worse than Rupert Murdoch.”

But in a country where right-wing candidates received more than 30 percent of the vote in last year’s presidential election, Mr Bollore’s platform has filled a political void in a French media landscape dominated by politically correct, left-leaning journalists according to his supporters. has been filled. ,

“The media sector in France is not neutral,” said Dominique Reny, professor at Sciences Po and founder of right-wing think tank Fondapole. “If you raise issues like immigration or Islamism, which are really problems in France, you get badly accosted by journalists who consider you to be far-right or extreme right-wing.”

Mr Lejeune’s appointment was a reflection of how the French media landscape is changing in the direction of “what is happening electorally in France, which is a growing shift to the right”, Mr Renée said. “There is a readership on that side that is not reading the left-leaning press.”

It’s a bet Mr. Bollore seems eager to take.

Christian Delporte, a media historian at the University of Versailles, said, “We have other media that are owned by industrialists that do not interfere with the editorial line, which is not the case with Bollore.”

“If he buys the media, it is because he has a desire to influence the country’s political future,” he added. “He is supporting the rise of the far right to power.”

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