The speed with which billionaire tycoon Vincent Bolloré succeeded in emptying the substance of a 75-year-old French newspaper, the JDD, is breathtaking. The 40-day strike by journalists at the weekly failed in their attempt to prevent the arrival during the height of summer of its newly appointed editor, Geoffroy Lejeune, a self-proclaimed supporter of the far-right, close to Éric Zemmour and Marion Maréchal, and who took up his functions despite an exodus of editorial staff (the “‘great replaced’,” joked one of them).
It was a dramatic reminder of the fragility of journalistic collectives in face of the power of predatory capital, and makes more necessary than ever the introduction of legislative safeguards, among which should be the right for editorial teams to approve or dismiss their editorial directors.
While a government-appointed panel of experts is to begin this month studying the state and future of news reporting in France, a consultation process called Les états généraux de l’information, the guilty silence of the Élysée Palace over the events at the JDD, which it allowed to happen without uttering even a word, is disturbing. One is tempted to describe it as ‘failing to assist a democracy in danger’, because the independence of journalists with regard to shareholders, advertisers, the Tech Giants and the governing authorities is essential in a democracy worthy of the name.
Mediapart has made this issue the foundation stone of its model. Our subscription campaign slogan “Only our readers can buy us” underlines our conviction that the absence of economic or political interference is a sine qua non for the journalistic profession. Mediapart’s intrinsic force is to have no advertising, no shareholders, and no funding from platforms or public aid, and it is this force that forges the relationship of confidence with our readers.
Against a backdrop of profound technological change, the context within which the états généraux de l’information have been launched – which comes 15 years after the failure of a similar exercise under Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidency – is that of a continuing decline. The acceleration of the concentration of media ownership among a handful of businessmen from the world of telecommunications, the arms industry and luxury brands, among others, places the plurality of our sector in danger, while it moulds views on the world. The grip of these wealthy individuals, who are alien to the journalistic profession, is not the result of an industrial logic, nor that of development or profitability, but is rather a quest for influence. It favours the spread of a commentating, opinionated press, a process which participates in the corruption of our democracy.
At a time when public distrust of the media has never been so strong, and at a time also of the abundant circulation of false news and hate speech, notably on social media, the pursuit of the truth of events has never been so indispensable. It is only by practicing a journalism which is respectful of our professional fundamentals – including thorough verifications, cross-checking of facts and the due hearing of all parties, while also ensuring the protection of our sources – that we are able to publish information of public interest, and by doing so play our role in ensuring citizens’ right to know, including about what is done in their name.
While the far-right is close to the doors of power in France, Vincent Bolloré amplifies the dissemination of rank, racist and xenophobic ideas, while his business empire, controlling swathes of the French media and publishing sector, re-shapes our public space. It is urgent that this ascension be halted, but it would be a mistake to focus on his case alone.
The attacks on independent journalism are incessant and many-sided, including the interference of shareholders in editorial affairs, injunctions issued to gag criticism, preventive pre-publication censorship (which take us back to the dark hours of the Ancien Régime), police violence against journalists covering demonstrations, and the refusal of some political parties to allow journalists access to their meetings. Ony a far-reaching, thorough review of our ecosystem can counter such abuse.
The fight for an independent and pluralist press has to be collective, and Mediapart has been convinced of this ever since its creation. Which is why we have developed, and continue to, editorial and financial ties with other media across France, which include Mediacités, Marsactu, Le Poulpe, Rue89 Strasbourg and La Déferlante, who all champion the same principles that we do. We are involved in the activities of the Union of the Independent Online Press, the SPIIL, of which we are a founding member. Via the Fonds pour une presse libre (Fund for a Free Press, see more here), Mediapart supports independent media projects through a yearly appeal for donations.
This battle is yours, and can only be won with your support. Which is why we have made this issue of democracy one the recurrent themes of our nationwide public meetings organised throughout this year (see the full programme here). This tour of France began this spring on the occasion of our 15th anniversary, and continues through the autumn and into the winter. The next venues are: Rennes on September 9th, Poitiers on September 30th, Clermont-Ferrand on October 7th, Grenoble on October 14th, Villeurbanne on October 28th, Toulouse on November 18th and, also that month, in Bordeaux, at a date yet to be announced. The penultimate venue is Lille on December 2nd, after which the tour steps across the border into Belgium, with a meeting in Brussels on December 16th.
At every meeting we will be happy to answer all your questions about our mission of serving the public interest, about our commitments, and how we function. You, our readers, have the right to know. We are accountable to you, and we count so much on your support for us in the fight for a free press.