The authoritarian personality

29 ဧပြီလ 2007
Royal may not have won his endorsement, but François Bayrou has made his view of Sarkozy's attitude to media freedom crystal clear.
July 25 2042, on the airwaves of le journal du Futur: "The President, Nicolas Sarkozy is dead ... We now go live to our permanent correspondent, Sonia, outside the American Hospital at Neuilly-sur-Seine ... Sonia: 'It's official ... black smoke is coming from the chimney. There's no doubt, aged 87, while entering his eighth term of office, the father of [political] thinking has left us ... the followers of Nicolas Sarkozy, may his soul rest in peace, are gathered here ... The press is also in attendance represented by the presidents of the boards of directors from Dassault, Lagardère, and Bouygues, without forgetting the official paparazzi of Paris Match and VSD ...' Studio: '... while we await the successor to the great leader, let's go back over the exceptional career of Nicolas Sarkozy, may his memory be glorified ..."
The spoof news bulletin produced by artists from the le Manifeste du sous réalisme website last summer epitomises concerns over press freedom in France if the UMP candidate wins the French Presidential election next Sunday on May 6. These anxieties re-emerged as Sarkozy was embroiled in a fresh political controversy last week over the decision of broadcaster Canal+ to cancel a debate between Ségolène Royal, Sarkozy's challenger in the presidential run-off, and François Bayrou, whose 7m first-round presidential votes both UMP and Socialists are wooing. In an unrestrained attack on Nicolas Sarkozy, Bayrou accused Sarkozy's camp of intervening to pull the plug on the debate, invoking "intimidations" and "threats". "I have no proof but I feel absolutely certain," declared Bayrou. "I am relying on numerous testimonies, not only from the board of Canal+, but from those who... had planned to broadcast [the debate] ... Just consider that Nicolas Sarkozy hasn't even been elected yet. What will it be like if he is elected?" snapped the centrist candidate. Sarkozy, clearly irritated at the prospect of such a debate, dubbed it a "ridiculous tragicomedy", and has equated Bayrou and Royal's indictments against him to a "a Stalinist trial". For its part, Canal+ has denied succumbing to external "pressure", citing media regulations that impose strict rules that candidates in the second round of the presidential election should receive equal media air-time. As Sarkozy refused a similar debate or a solo appearance on Canal+, this could have put the channel in a difficult position. This can't have been an insurmountable barrier, however, as the debate eventually took place this morning on the free public access channel BFM TV. Sarkozy's protests may not be entirely unjustified in so far as he portrays himself as a victim of his own reputation. His friendships with the national press barons are public knowledge, as satirised by the Journal du futur above. The multi-billionaire Martin Bouygues, ranked 214th on the Forbes World's Rich List, owner of the channel TF1 (with a one-third share of the television audience), is a long-standing friend and godfather of Sarkozy's son. In June 2005, press magnate Arnaud Lagardère (head of a media group that includes Europe 1 radio, Paris Match, several regional newspapers, and stakeholder in Canal+) introduced Sarkozy to a group of business collaborators "not as a friend but as a brother"; Serge Dassault, who, like Lagardère, successfully combines arms manufacture with the media, is a member of Sarkozy's UMP and also counted among his intimate friends. The Dassault group's effective absorption in 2004 of Socpresse, a media group consisting of le Figaro, l'Express, l'Expansion and around 70 other publications, prompted le Monde to ask presciently, "Is France returning to the bad old days when newspapers were the dancing girls of billionaires?" Sarkozy has been accused of countless breaches of media freedom since his re-appointment as minister of interior in 2005: the downfall of the former director of Paris Match; the pulping of an entire 25,000-copy print run of his wife's biography; press censorship of critical statements (such as those of the popular former tennis player Yannick Noah, who vowed, in November 2005, in Paris Match: "if Sarkozy wins, I'm leaving"); forcing an Agence France Presse journalist into professional isolation for her reporting on a bungled public police raid; constant pressure on, and threats towards, France Télévision and Libération; misuse of his influence in the recruitment of political journalists for Europe 1; and pressuring the media into "self-censorship" during the disturbances in the Paris suburbs in 2005. The shadow of Sarkozy, the man who would be President of the Republic, already looms large over the French media. Cifeditor's note: some minor changes were made at the request of the author, without altering the substance of the piece, on Monday April 30 at 11:00am. Comment is free...