Sarkozy's links to media barons stirs unease

24th May 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, May 24, 2007 (AFP) - President Nicolas Sarkozy has powerful friends in France's media, and the appointment of a close aide to head the top TV station has fuelled fears the rightwinger may use his contacts to lean on the press.

PARIS, May 24, 2007 (AFP) - President Nicolas Sarkozy has powerful friends in France's media, and the appointment of a close aide to head the top TV station has fuelled fears the rightwinger may use his contacts to lean on the press.

"This really is the Berlusconi method. This collusion of big media and political power is completely indecent," charged Faouzi Lamdaoui, the opposition Socialist Party's equality secretary.

He made the parallel with the practices of the former Italian prime minister and media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi after Laurent Solly, Sarkozy's former deputy election campaign manager, was appointed as a director of TF1 television.

The accusation echoed the charge that Sarkozy's camp was "trying to control everything through very powerful links to finance and the media" made by the defeated Socialist candidate Segolene Royal during the recent election campaign.

And the media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said there was cause for concern over the suppression of an article written for a Sunday paper saying Sarkozy's wife Cecilia had not bothered to vote in the second round of the election.

"The fact that the article did not appear, in all likelihood following pressure by the main shareholder (of the newspaper) who is a friend of Mr Sarkozy -- that leads us to be particularly vigilant," RSF's Jean-Francois Juillard told AFP.

Sarkozy's spokesman flatly denied that members of the president's entourage had applied pressure on the Journal du Dimanche to stop the article being published.

And the paper's editor insisted he had withheld the article only to protect Cecilia Sarkozy in line with France's stringent privacy laws.

But observers say the opposition and media workers' concerns are legitimate.

Arnaud Lagardere, the industrialist owner of Le Journal du Dimanche, is a friend of the new president.

His group is one of the main investors in planemaker Airbus's parent group EADS, and it also controls the glossy Paris Match magazine.

Sarkozy was reported to have intervened to force the sacking of the magazine's editor after the publication ran a front-page picture in 2005 of Cecilia with her then lover. Sarkozy denies the accusation.

Paris Match had a picture of Cecilia kissing her husband on the front cover the week of Sarkozy's election victory this month.

"Cecilia shares in his victory," the headline said.

But the magazine failed to mention that Cecilia had been conspicuously absent from his side during the election campaign.

Another powerful friend of Sarkozy is Serge Dassault, who has interests ranging from the media to the aerospace industry. He controls the conservative daily Le Figaro.

Dassault is also a senator in Sarkozy's ruling UMP party.

The industrialist Vincent Bollore, aboard whose yacht Sarkozy took a high-profile holiday in Malta after his election, has media interests including a television channel, a free evening newspaper Soir and a free morning paper which is a joint venture with Le Monde.

And Martin Bouygues of the Bouygues conglomerate, which owns TFI television, is a close friend of Sarkozy and godfather to his 10-year-old son.

But despite these links Reporters Without Borders said there was as yet no need for the French media to panic.

"We think that today there are enough means of protection of the press in France," said Juillard.

"For example, in the Journal du Dimanche affair ... in the end by trying to hide the information it got even greater importance, which shows that in France there are ways of guaranteeing the freedom of information.

"There are lots of media with different political outlooks, journalists have formed editorial committees which are very vigilant, and there are journalists unions which are very active," he said. 


Copyright AFP

SUbject: French news

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