French mainstream journalists and politicians go to war against conservative and dissident journalism

Vincent Bolloré (center) has come under attack from the French government and NGOs backed by George Soros after Bolloré purchased a left-wing media outlet and replaced its editor with Geoffroy Lejeune (left).
By Olivier Bault
11 Min Read

An ongoing battle in France around who should lead a popular weekly newspaper, the Journal du Dimanche (Sunday Newspaper), or JDD, is a perfect illustration of what Frenchman Claude Chollet, from the Observatoire du Journalisme media watchdog, recently said on Remix News: That it is generally assumed in the French mainstream media there should be no room for right-wing conservative opinions as they are automatically dubbed “far right,” “xenophobic,” “racist,” “reactionary,” or even “fascist.”

That battle does not make the headlines like the destructive rioting and looting that have plunged France into a week of chaos already, but it is no less important. Indeed, the worse the situation gets, the more there is a need to enforce and consolidate what the French call “la Pensée unique,” or in other words, the one and only way of thinking that is allowed in the French mainstream media.

Chollet explained in our June 19 interview how the managing editor of France’s only mainstream right-wing conservative weekly newspaper, Valeurs Actuelles, was fired by the paper’s Franco-Lebanese owner who feared for his business dealings in the French public sector. Chollet also described France’s oligarchic system of media ownership and how one of the oligarchs, Vincent Bolloré, stands out from the ranks by allowing for different opinions to be voiced on the television channels he owns, including those right-wing conservative opinions that are mostly banned in other mainstream media outlets.

As reported in Remix News, the presence of conservative right-wing voices on Bolloré’s CNews and C8 TV channels even caused Macron’s government, through his culture minister (also a Franco-Lebanese), to threaten that the two channels could soon lose their broadcast licenses.

The world of French journalism united against a mainstream media outlet’s possible shift to the right

However, as was also mentioned by Chollet, Bolloré has successfully taken over the Lagardère group, which owned, among other assets, the JDD and Paris Match weeklies as well as one of France´s main private radio stations, Europe 1. And Bolloré has decided he would hire Geoffroy Lejeune, who had been quite successful at Valeurs Actuelles before he was fired because of the paper being too aggressively right-wing and critical of Macron. So Lejeune is now the new managing editor at JDD, which was up to now a typical left-leaning, mainstream French newspaper.

Unsurprisingly, Bolloré’s move has caused uproar in the French political and media world. Dozens of JDD journalists have gone on strike; journalists’ associations of other newspapers ranging from center-right Le Figaro to communist L’Humanité have expressed their support for that strike; an open letter signed by known people from the world of journalism, politics, and culture has been published by the left-wing daily newspaper Le Monde. In addition, the left-wing, Soros-backed NGO Reporters without Borders — so keen on defending media pluralism in Hungary and Poland — has organized an event to protest against Bolloré’s move, and the same culture minister who threatened CNews and C8 last February has now issued thinly veiled threats toward the JDD if it is to become like Valeurs Actuelles was under Geoffroy Lejeune. And by the way, one of Valeurs Actuelles’ best known journalists, Charlotte d’Ornellas, has now left and a few others have been fired in the wake of their former managing editor.

Brussels only condemns the lack of left-wing domination in the media, not the lack of media pluralism

The minister’s intervention, in particular, is quite an astonishing situation, although not as astonishing as Brussels’s passivity in the face of France’s assumed lack of media pluralism when one remembers all the fuss that has been made in recent years about the alleged lack of media pluralism in Hungary or Poland, although the truth is both countries enjoy much greater pluralism than France. All this turmoil about one weekly newspaper risking shifting to the right and becoming too critical of Emmanuel Macron’s woke policies reveals that the establishment will increasingly brook no dissent.

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“My Sunday ritual was to wake up to the JDD. Today it isn’t published. I understand the concerns of its editors. In law, the JDD can be whatever it wants to be, as long as it respects the law. But when it comes to our republican values, how can we not be alarmed?” tweeted Culture Minister Rima Abdul-Malak on June 25.

The fact is that, in France, the liberal left calls its own left-wing, often radical beliefs, “republican values,” pretty much the same way the left calls them “European values” at the EU level. For sure, Geoffroy Lejeune, as well as Valeurs Actuelles under his watch, do not comply with the left’s “republican values,” i.e., with the framework of opinions that the French political and media mainstream find acceptable. This excludes of course opinions that are critical of such things as mass immigration, EU integration, and the struggle against climate change, to cite but a few examples.

Both the center-right (Les Républicains, LR) and Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) have criticized such interference from the government in the private media.

“The whole press can’t be Macronist… This proves, once again, that we’re dealing with an activist rather than a minister,” RN MP Caroline Parmentier said on June 27 during questions to Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne, noting that the culture minister had already threatened private TV channels and had publically criticized in the past journalists whom she does not like.

“Madam Prime Minister, is it your government’s policy to trample on the independence and pluralism of the media on the pretext that they annoy the government in power? (…) When are you going to put an end to this series of democratically unacceptable pressures, and when are you going to respect political plurality and opposition?” further asked MP Parmentier.

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“What surprised me the most in all this was the outburst from the culture minister, who said she was worried about the values of the Republic,” said Olivier Marleix, the leader of the LR group in the National Assembly, noting that “she was much less worried when the president of the republic got five to six pages of interview from Geoffroy Lejeune in Valeurs Actuelles.”

Reporter Without Borders’ hypocrisy and leftist bias exposed

In what may amuse some readers, it appears that for the sake of press independence and freedom of the press, the Soros-Backed French NGO Reporters Without Border (RSF) will protest against each conservative takeover of a left-wing media outlet, but never the other way around. So RSF vehemently protested, for example, against the conservative takeover of HírTV in Hungary five years ago, when that television channel was wrongly described by RSF as “One of Hungary’s last critical media outlets”. But then, when in RSF’s home country a weekly newspaper risks becoming France’s only press outlet critical of Macron on the issues that really matter, like immigration, law and order, the rule of law, France’s sovereignty in the EU, and the Green Deal, RSF is vehemently against that move as well.

Every year, RSF publishes a Press Freedom Index. In its 2023 edition, France is ranked 24th, whereas Poland comes only 57th and Hungary 72nd.

In France, however, RSF was itself the organizer of a big gathering on June 27 in Paris to express “solidarity with the strike of the JDD’s editorial team.”

The RSF chairman, Christophe Deloire, thanked the participants in person for having shown up. And although those participants’ political affiliations or sympathies all ranged from the center to the far left, Deloire ensured that “Freedom of the press is not a right-wing, left-wing or centrist issue.”

Among the participants, former JDD Managing Director Hervé Gattegno is known for his principled refusal to publish any interview with Marine Le Pen during all his tenure at JDD, an attitude opposite to that of supposedly “far right” Geoffroy Lejeune who, as head of Valeurs Actuelles, allowed for the publication of a lengthy interview with Emmanuel Macron as well other interviews with figures from the French left.

“Doesn’t it bother you that other billionaires own major media outlets?” Chollet’s Observatoire du Journalisme asked the founder of a left-wing website, Arrêts sur Images, at the meeting organized by RSF. His answer was, as reported by this French media watchdog: “It’s different, they don’t intervene in the newsrooms. They let the newsrooms be run by managing editors who think the right way, who think well.”

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