Bolloré version of JDD: with us or against us

The management of Journal du Dimanche (JDD), the French Sunday newspaper that is already under the sway of its future new owner, billionaire businessman Vincent Bolloré, withdrew from a conference in which it was a partner because one of the participants was the philosopher and politician Gaspard Koenig. What was the JDD management’s problem with Koenig? That he was one of the 400 signatories of a statement in support of the JDD journalists who are on strike.

It might have gone unnoticed. On 29 June, JDD failed to honour its partnership with Opinion Square, an entity that organises debates on social issues. Until then, JDD had announced these debates and had ensured their visibility. And JDD’s publisher, Jérôme Béglé, usually played the role of moderator. But Béglé’s absence on 29 June had nothing to do with that day’s topic, which was ChatGPT, a chatbot that uses artificial intelligence to respond to requests from Internet users. It was because the organisers had confirmed that Gaspard Koenig would be there. Two days before, Koenig had joined 400 other prominent figures in signing a statement supporting the editorial staff at JDD, who had been on strike for almost a month in protest against the decision to appoint Geoffroy Lejeune – a journalist who supports far-right politician Éric Zemmour – as the newspaper’s new editor.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has learned that Koenig's public support for the statement was deemed "incompatible" with the newspaper's participation in this event. “JDD didn't want me, but the organisation decided to keep me so the newspaper finally decided to withdraw,” Koenig told RSF. This was confirmed by someone who helped organise the debate, which went ahead without Béglé. According to this source, fear of the possibility that Béglé or Koenig would be asked a question about the statement signed by Koenig got the better of the partnership established between JDD and Opinion Square since March.

This is a strange approach to a debate, especially one sponsored by a newspaper. “It reflects a certain state of mind,” said Koenig. “They say that the takeover of these media outlets is not ideological, but ... QED.” When opening the debate on 29 June, the organiser made a brief reference to its partner’s “internal and external concerns.”

“When you are a partner in an event that says it wants to 'introduce debate between conflicting views in France,' withdrawing because someone defends a position not to one’s liking is somewhat absurd. But this reaction, which might seem puerile at first sight, actually reflects the very narrow and very polarised view of journalism and debate adopted by Vincent Bolloré and all those who are facilitating his influence in the Lagardère group media, including JDD, which he is in the process of acquiring.”

Arnaud Froger
head of RSF’s investigation desk

Béglé did not respond to RSF’s repeated calls and messages requesting a comment.

JDD’s journalists have been on strike for nearly a month – an event without precedence in the newspaper’s 75 years of existence – because they oppose the appointment of Lejeune, a former editor of the magazine Valeurs Actuelles. Arnaud Lagardère, the head of the media group being taken over by Bolloré, has tried to claim that the decision to appoint Lejeune was his. But it is hard not to see the hand of Bolloré himself, another supporter of Zemmour, the candidate who came fourth in the 2022 presidential election.

Bolloré is in the process of finalising his acquisition of the Lagardère group’s media, which include Paris Match and Europe 1 was well as JDD. But RSF has been able to confirm that the European Commission’s preliminary investigation into “gun jumping” – an anticipated takeover – has started well on the basis of the many signs, documented by RSF, that Bolloré has been exerting influence over his new media conquests.

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