2007-05-25 Yan van der Made
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A close aide to Nicolas Sarkozy takes a top position at France’s most popular TV station… and the new president comes under flak

Laurent SollyLaurent Solly
The objectivity of the French press is at stake. After the appointment of Laurent Solly, former campaign manager with current president Nicolas Sarkozy as director of TF1, criticism on the way the new president is dealing with the press has been mounting.

I asked Axel Poniatowski, member of parliament for the ruling party UMP what signal he thinks the appointment of mr. Solly gives:

"It's really mainly a personal choice from him and for his career. First of all, TF1 is a private company, so it is managed on the rules of private business, and secondly, Laurent Solly is a very talented young man, who is making the choice to go in the private sector rather than to continue in the public sector. He has been with Nicolas Sarkozy for four years, as his cabinet director, and he is just making the choice to go in private business. There is just nothing abnormal in this situation."

Television station TF1 did not want to give any comment when asked.

But French media watchdog Reporters Without Borders signals a growing discontent among the public with the media. This is Jean-Francois Julliard of the Paris based organization:

"It is one of the reasons why French citizens today don't really trust the media. Half of the people in France don't really trust the media. Because they have the feeling that there are some very close links between political leaders and journalists, seeing the fact that journalists start to work with the government, and former people belonging to political parties are now involved in very high level responsibilities in some very important media. But we think it is up to the media to determine what they can accept and what they can't." But is it? President Sarkozy is good friends with many of the French media moguls, and one phonecall by the president just might be enough to stop a story.

Axel PoniatowskiAxel Poniatowski
Pierre Haski, a former journalist with left-wing newspaper Libération, founded his own website for independent journalism, called Rue 89. He found out that a newspaper owned by a friend of Sarkozy, the Journal du Dimanche, did not print a story which said that the wife of the president did not vote. A case of censorship, one might say. But again, what signal does it give to the public?

"It's a very bad signal, because it gives the impression that even the private media in this country are under direct control from the presidency. And that's the image that has been spread all over the campaign. When the owner of one of the biggest mediagroups in this country describes the president as his brother and when this owner of this newspaper sensors his own newspaper because it has embarrassing reports about the wife of the president, that is really bad. And when it touches the biggest channel in the country, with the number two of the channel coming straight from the staff of the president, I think this is quite unacceptable and quite shocking for the spirit of freedom of speech in this country."

As a result of Sarkozy's strong links with top-media owners, France's Communist Party is talking about a Berlusconisation of the French media. I asked Axel Poniatowski what he thought of this:

"I really think that this point is quite absurd, excuse me of the formula, but Berlusconi owns all his tv and radio channels, Nicolas Sarkozy doesn't own anything. So we are in two completely different situations."

Well, maybe as a result of all the criticism two journalists who were married to newly appointed ministers, will change the nature of their job. Christine Ockrent, a star journalist with France's third channel, is married to Bernard Kouchner, minister of Foreign Affairs, and Beatrice Schoenberg a presenter with France's second channel, is the wife of Finance minister Jean-Louis Borloo. Both women announced they won't do politically sensitive programs anymore.

But will this be enough to calm public distrust of the media in France? Only time will tell.

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