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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Opération reprise en main

by Sebastien Homer

Operation Take Control

Translated Friday 19 December 2008, by Alison Billington

The media. Reform of public broadcasting, extraordinary meeting on the press…How and why Nicolas Sarkozy is redesigning the media landscape to his advantage.

« I’ll take into account everything that is said ». This phrase of Sarkozy’s, spoken when he arranged the extraordinary meeting on relations with the press, sums up succinctly the President’s frame of mind in dealing with the evils of the media. « My role is to modernise French society », he adds with a carniverous smile. « How could I do that if the people in charge of those reforms aren’t modernised? »

The media is just a sounding board for the President, who, it is believed, initially wanted to be a journalist. It is no coincidence that almost everyone who counts among the media bosses came to pay tribute [1] on the very night of his election, at Fouquet’s restaurant [2]. It remains to follow the example of someone like Berlusconi [3] in firmly establishing his authority. And what better, to control the media than to bring it to its knees economically? When you control the supply to the ‘pipelines’, you know what is going to flow from them.

What is happening around public broadcasting, at the moment, is a textbook case. While still only a candidate, he had already made it understood that he very much included putting France Televisions [4] back in step. At the same time, in order to look after (the interests of) his relations in the private sphere, it became necessary to kill two birds with one stone. He could help TF1 [5] M6 [6] and other media belonging to the likes of Bollore [7]while bringing the public service to heel. Solution? Abolish advertising over public broadcasting so that even more be pumped into the private channels.

Typical of his conception of (social) dialogue is the French Copé Commission [8], a hybrid team [9] of members of Parliament and professionals in the sector, who were supposedly to examinate, without any "prejudices", the question of what public television will be like without advertisements, and on how it could be financed. An open dialogue, except that the Left-wing M.P.s stormed out quite quickly realizing that there was, in fact, a hefty prejudice – the licence fee - along with the fact that the President tends to lead a far too sympathetic ear to the arguments of pressure groups. This was confirmed when the commission submitted its conclusions to the Palais Elysée, as a result of which, Sarkozy immedately pulled out of his hat, as if incidentally, the solutions which he himself had already recommended. Namely, no rise in the licence fee, several taxes on private channels and telecommunication operators to support on a drip, a somewhat under-financed public service. French Broadcasting, which will now have the supreme delight of seeing its chairman appointed by the Executive.

forcing the issue

Even more emblematic, are the debates in the National Assembly over a bill on broadcasting. In order to abolish advertising after 8 o’clock pm on France Televisions, as of January 5th, the UMP (France’s ruling right-wing party) cannot do better than to introduce the act at the end of November. The schedule has not been kept, due to nearly a thousand amendments in spite of the feigned urgency. And from this stems the scarcely veiled threat of forcing it through, via blocked vote, according to article 49-3 of the constitution [10]. It is not worth it, the Minister for Culture will retort, for the abolition of advertising ’can be done by decree. The rest will be left to the stewards of the free market system, which signifies, in plain language, a predicted loss of some 900 jobs directly related with public telly; nevertheless - according to UMP spokesman, Frederic Lefebvre: « it is telly which will have “the means to survive.” ».

The modus operandi concerning the printed press will be the same. Sarkozy is seizing an old, Left-wing claim, to arrange, not an ad hoc commission, but "workshops", sessions during which he generously provided both the "questions" and the "answers". So, on the eve of the inauguration of the same « extraordinary meeting of the press », the Giazzi [11] report was made public. It said that in order to bring together multi-media groups of international scale, an end must be put to the Syndicat du Livre [12] the press distribution system, the concentration levels [13] also to journalists’ copyright and clauses on assignment and conscience. Not to mention a recasting of of press subventions intended to help the press through the sacrosanct period of transformation to digital.

In these extraordinary meetings where press bosses represent a third of the participants and the basic journalists are less than a handful of individuals, it is no surprise that propositions aimed at making the concentration levels rise have been seen springing up. Propositions such as challenging the claims on assignment and conscience as well as copyright and the Law Bichet governing, until now, the distribution of the press.

Lagardere services [14] proposes to leave the distributor free to distribute (or not) such and such a title and to fix the prices. As Fernando Malverde of the SNJ-CGT (a journalists’s union) has said, the problem with extraordinary meetings is that they have one, and one concern, only, namely to a make information as profitable as possible. In contrast to this, in 1944, the National Council for the Resistance did all possible to take the problem with extraordinary meeting is that they have one, and one concern, only, namely to a make information as profitable as possible. In contrast to this, in 1944, the National Council for the Resistance did all possible to take the Press out of the hands of the financial powers for the sake of their independence and pluality ».

« "googling" in titles »

Not to mention the (rhetorical) gems of the extraordinary meeting of « the press tycoons », as one union member sums up, « for whom it is like celebrating Christmas in advance » : « Sarkozy has made himself clear, the principle of non-remuneration can be taken further », one press boss is quoted as having said. A marketing advisor will encourage journalists to "google in titles". We won’t go into the witticisms of historian Patrick Eveno, co-ordinator of a subgroup called ’concentration and pluralism’ (sic) or the flashes of wit of those who would content themselves with "three daily newspapers" in France. It’s symbolic that, when doubt was cast over whether certain organisations (like the journalists’ societies or readers’ societies), who were not even invited to participate in the debate, the General Confederation of Labour (workers’ union) and the French Democratic Confederation of Labour (a group of trade unions) both stormed out of the extraordinary meeting without waiting for the end, as already stated. Daniele Giazzi had no trouble saying in Paris Match that the role of the State was to help La Croix [15] and L’Humanité survive. There is a difference between living and being on a drip. But that, Sarkozy knows already, for he said, aping Gramsci [16] «Ideological and cultural hegemony precede political victory.»

Translator’s notes:

[1A comprehensive list of President Sarkozy’s extremley rich and influential guests for that occasion was published by the weekly news magazine, Marianne2 (Jeudi 01 Novembre 2007) (http://www.marianne2.fr/Exclusif-les-invites-du-President-au-diner-du-Fouquet-s_a80603.html?voir_commentaire=oui),

[2Le Fouquet’s opened in 1899 and celebrated its centennial just a few years ago. For film stars, this is the place to see and be seen in Paris, and each year its famous red interior is filled with winners from the César Awards (the French equivalent of the Oscars). Known for its terrace above the corner of the Champs Elysées and Avenue George V, Fouquet’s...

[3Silvio Berlusconi (born 29 September 1936) is an Italian politician, entrepreneur, real estate and insurance tycoon, bank and media proprietor, football team owner ( AC Milan) and songwriter. He is the third longest-serving Prime Minister of the Italian Republic. Berlusconi is the founder and major shareholder of Fininvest, one of the country’s ten largest privately owned companies, which currently operates in media and finance. Its portfolio includes three (out of nine) national analogue television channels, various digital television channels, as well as some of the larger-circulation newsmagazines. According to Forbes magazine, Berlusconi is Italy’s third richest person, with personal assets worth $9.4 billion (USD) in 2008.

[4French public national television broadcaster. It is funded mostly by television licences and advertising

[5TF1 : French private television network, whose major stockholder (42.9%) is Bouygues, a French industrial group listed on Euronext Paris exchange and is a blue chip in the CAC 40 stock market index. The Bouygues Group has been led, since 1989, by Martin Bouygues.
Martin Bouygues was a witness at Nicolas Sarkozy’s second marriage and is godfather to his son, Louis.
The sworn enemy of Vincent Bolloré (i.e. "Bolloré quitte Bouygues", article paru dans l’Humanité , le 1er décembre 1998) - http://www.humanite.fr/1998-12-01_Politique_Bollore-quitte-Bouygues
Despite their legendary enmity, they were both among Nicolas Sarkozy’s guests at the said election night festivities at Fouquets restaurant.

[6Metropole 6 is a French television channel owned by Metropole Television.

[7Vincent Bolloré (b. 1st April 1952 in Boulogne-Billancourt, France) is a French industrialist, corporate raider and businessman. He heads the family investment group Bolloré and is ranked 451st richest person in the world according to Forbes…. He is a close personal friend of French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Bollore Investments, S.A. took an interest in the advertising sector and had a stake in Havas - a media and communications enterprise.

[8special commission, directed by Jean-François Copé, the president of the UMP (Union for a Popular Movement) group in the French National Assembly, in charge of finding an alternative way to finance the public audiovisual sector.

[9La Commission comprend deux collèges, un collège parlementaire, un collège professionnel. Elle sera largement ouverte sur les sphères professionnelles et la société civile, et aura un large recours à la concertation en utilisant tous les moyens de communication (internet, TV, auditions, blogs…). Elle rendra son rapport avant la fin du mois de mai.

Président : Jean-François COPÉ

Collège parlementaire

- Franck Riester, député (UMP)
- Michel Herbillon, député (UMP)
- Christian Kert, député (UMP)
- Patrice Martin-Lalande, député (UMP)
- Gilles Carrez, Député (UMP)
- Jean Dionis du Séjour, député (nouveau centre)
- Catherine Morin Desailly, sénatrice (groupe centriste)
- Louis de Broissia, sénateur (UMP)
- Jacques Valade, Sénateur (UMP), président de la commission culture du Sénat
- Ivan Renar, Sénateur (communiste)
- Jack Ralite, Sénateur (communiste)

Collège professionnel

- Laurence Franceschini, directrice du développement des médias,
- Sophie Deschamps, scénariste, ancienne président de la SACD
- Véronique Cayla, directrice générale du CNC, spécialiste du cinéma et de l’audiovisuel
- Marin Karmitz, producteur, distributeur (MK2)
- Hervé Chabalier, journaliste, producteur (CAPA)
- Jacques Chancel, producteur audiovisuel
- Simone Harari, productrice audiovisuelle
- Marie Masmonteil, productrice de cinéma
- Nicolas Traube, producteur audiovisuel
- Pierre Giacometti, consultant, expert
- René Martin, producteur de spectacles et producteur audiovisuel
- Catherine Clément, philosophe, auteur d’un rapport sur l’audiovisuel public (2002)
- Martin Rogard, directeur France de Dailymotion (plateforme communautaire)
- Marcel Rufo, pédopsychologue
- Jacques Santamaria, scénariste
- Un représentant de l’audiovisuel public britannique (en cours de désignation)

[10Article 49.3, called that of "commitment of responsibility", allows the government to put through a bill without a vote, under the cover of a rejection of the vote of no confidence which the opposition must put forward for form, with little hope of success.

[11In May this year, the president appointed the governing UMP party’s National Secretary for Business, Daniele Giazzi, to prepare a report on how to make France’s newspapers adapt to the rise of the internet and digital technology

[12Syndicat Général du Livre et de la Communication Ecrite: France’s CGT (General Confederation of Labour) printers union

[13Media ‘concentration levels’ refers to the number of channels or listeners that a media baron could control. These used to be limited.

[14"Since Sarkozy’s election a year ago, relations between the government and the press have been closely scrutinized because of the concentration of media ownership among the president’s close allies. Among them are Arnaud Lagardère, who calls Sarkozy a "brother"; Martin Bouygues, a godfather to Sarkozy’s youngest son; and Vincent Bolloré, who lent the president his jet and yacht for a post-election vacation.
Lagardère’s company is a military contractor and media concern that owns Le Journal du Dimanche , the only national Sunday paper in France; the glossy magazine Paris Match; and Europe 1 radio. Bouygues, a leading global construction company, controls TF1, the biggest French television network. Bolloré’s enterprise is a holding company that controls the digital television channel Direct 8 and jointly owns, with Le Monde the free daily newspaper Matin Plus." - "A feud over press freedom boils over in France", By Katrin Bennhold, Published: May 12, 2008 International Herald Tribune, Europe (http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/05/12/europe/afp.php)

[15 La Croix is a French, Roman Catholic, daily newspaper

[16Antonio Gramsci was an Italian writer, politician, leader and theorist of Socialism, Communism and Anti-Fascism; (January 22, 1891 – April 27, 1937). He is renowned for his concept on cultural hegemony.

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