A threat to the French media landscape?

The French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been accused of spying on journalists who ‘annoyed him’. This allegation has enhanced the fact that the media climate in France is getting worse from the time of the election of President Nicolas Sarkozy. Journalists have never found it easy to be a journalist in France. Now, some say it is intolerable .

Edwy Plenel, the former editor-in-chief of Le Monde (a French daily newspaper) who founded the independent news website Mediapart, is convinced that freedom of the press in France is in ‘serious jeopardy’. He was one of the first journalists to reveal the scandal surrounding the billionaire L’Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt  allegating that the richest woman in France made illegal donations to Mr. Sarkozy’s presidential campaign. There were also investigating allegations of tax evasion, influence peddling and a conflict of interest involving Ms. Bettencourt and a key member of Sarkozy’s government, Labour Minister Eric Woerth.

He claimed  he had been under surveillance in an operation controlled by L’Elysée.  His office was burgled days after the scandal was revealed, leading him to attribute it to an operation ordered by Elysée Chief of Staff Claude Guéant. Several journalists have been victims of mysterious burglaries, having their computers, GPS, hard discs and CDs stolen.

The allegation of spying was revealed few days ago in the satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaîné. This allegation was followed by an official communiqué from L’Elysée denying the whole story, claiming it was ‘completely fabricated’. According to le Canard’s editor in chief, ‘each time Sarkozy is upset by a press story he personally calls the head of the French counter intelligence services(DCRI) and orders him to swoop in on the sniffing journalists, check their phone calls, and identify their sources inside the administration.’

Several incidents have undermined President Sarkozy’s reputation and the degree of alleged personal intervention by the president is unprecedented. In fact, ‘nothing escapes to Sarkozy’. The media coverage of these events shows that Sarkozy’s interventions have become a matter of public knowledge. The ironic part of the story is that it is the French president himself who announced a media law in January 2010 aimed at providing stronger protection to journalists’ sources. Nevertheless, President Sarkozy appears to constantly rely on an exception to the law providing that if national interests are in jeopardy, sources can be revealed. He has cited this provision as a defence.

French journalists now fear that the government wants to intimidate them and force them to stay on the boundaries of what President Nicolas Sarkozy tolerates. An additional concern is how far the President can control the French broadcasting system. It is known in the public domain that President Sarkozy always had control when appointing directors of radio and television stations, having a preference for his ‘friends’ and ‘trusted’ associates.


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