Pour un manuel de Media Studies, Oliver Carter, de l’université de Birmingham, avait besoin d’études de cas à la sauce internationale. Je lui ai proposé quelques mots sur le système français de propriété des journaux (et purée, c’est dur d’écrire sans hypertexte !).
Si vous vous sentez en forme pour lire 5 minutes en anglais, je serais super content d’avoir vos commentaires, critiques et suggestions !
Mon but était de montrer que les mégacorporations à la Murdoch n'étaient pas responsables de tous les travers du journalisme, mais à la relecture, je trouve que ça fait un peu théorie du complot.
Vous en pensez quoi?
On June 27, 2006, the editor-in-chief of a newsmagazine was fired because he published a picture of a minister’s wife along with her lover. On May 13, 2007, an article in a weekly paper about this same wife’s not voting was censored. In June, a video of the president’s alleged drunkenness at a press conference was not shown on national television.
Russia? China? This all happened in France, where speech is as free as can be and censors have long been laid off. How can sensation-seeking editors withhold such juicy information?
Media companies, it is assumed, attract consumer attention and sell it over to advertisers. They have an incentive to produce content readers and viewers will be eager to watch. Bashing politicians usually fall in this category.
Now, media assets can also represent prestigious prizes for successful businessmen looking for recognition and influence. When he bought a Muscovite paper in 2004, Russian billionaire Arcadi Gaydamak brazenly said he just wanted to gain influence and that he could have bought a sports club or a strong brand instead. The nouveau riche chutzpah notwithstanding, French media owners do much the same.
Far from operating as profit centers, media assets often serve as image producers. Bolloré, mostly an energy group, featured several African heads-of-state on the frontpages of its free dailies to smoothen its activities in Senegal and Cameroon.
Conflict of interest is a way of life for French media owners. Adding a few political connections, the game gets spicier. Vincent Bolloré, who controls two freebies with a combined circulation over 1m, regularly lends his private jet to president Sarkozy. Arnault Lagardère, head of a group balanced between media and aerospace (Airbus, Eurocopter…), publicly declared the president was his “brother”. He is behind the first two examples of the first paragraph.
Trying to reach out to influencers rather than to the public at large, French dailies are concentrated on Paris and Parisian news. Although the problem also stems from a monopolized distribution system, a business model that does not focus on readers need not worry about circulation. Le Monde’s sells half as many copies as the Times of London. One French adult in five reads a daily. One in two in the UK.
The French press works much like the US museum industry. A curator doesn’t aim at pleasing visitors. They bring in less than 10% of revenues. The demand to be satisfied is the donors’. Readers and advertisers do bring in money, but without the deep pockets of the press patrons, many papers of record would go bust rapidly. The sole profitable daily, Les Echos, was owned by media-only group Pearson before it was sold to luxury tycoon Bernard Arnault (Dior, Louis Vuitton…).
Leftist daily Libération narrowly escaped bankruptcy in 2005, thanks to the millions of euros a businessman poured in the paper. The strings attached included a reshuffle of the top editors. Journalists now fear for their editorial freedom. And their job.
With a seemingly endless supply of journalists willing to work for the minimum wage, a stable job at a national daily is priceless. Why put your paycheck at risk with a step on the wrong side of the yellow line? Ethics tend to bend when you have a family and a mortgage.
Self-censorship and abuses from owners are not unique to France, nor does it put the country on par with Russia or China. However, compared to an arms giant running a newspaper at a loss, such as Dassault and Le Figaro, an owner willing to make a profit from its media assets has a greater incentive to care about its readers’ demands and to let journalists fulfill it.