Business and Finance

Conservative billionaire Vincent Bolloré tightens grip on French media

When journalists at French weekly broadsheet Journal du Dimanche huddled at a newsroom assembly to debate the sudden ousting of the title’s editor Hervé Gattegno this week, the environment was funereal.

Many of these current feared that Vincent Bolloré, the conservative billionaire who controls media group Vivendi, was placing his imprint on the newspaper even earlier than his pending takeover of its mother or father firm Lagardère had been finalised.

They had purpose to be nervous: Bolloré, who made a lot of his fortune in logistics and transport in Africa and thru savvy company raids, has a document of overhauling the employees, model and content of his media acquisitions. The tycoon, who comes from a household of traditional Catholics from Brittany, has lengthy believed the French media is simply too leftwing and has sought to construct a counterweight, in accordance with individuals conversant in his considering.

At Vivendi, he tamed the irreverent satirical reveals of pay-TV operator Canal Plus and then fired its CEO. He used a month-long strike at information channel I-Télé to cull one-third of the newsroom, paving the way in which to rebrand it as CNews, a information and opinion channel impressed by the US champion of rightwing points Fox News.

Changes at Lagardère’s Europe 1 radio station over the summer time prompted a strike and mass departure of journalists. As Lagardère’s largest shareholder, Vivendi parachuted in CNews stars to interchange a number of veteran hosts on the as soon as mainstream outlet. He additionally ordered that CNews be broadcast instantly on the station’s airwaves on weekend mornings.

“We share an office building with Europe 1, so we all know what happened there,” mentioned a JDD reporter who spoke beneath the situation of anonymity for concern of retaliation. “People are very worried that the editorial line will change, just as it has at other media that have gone under ownership of Bolloré.”

Coming as France gears up for subsequent April’s presidential elections, the adjustments at Lagardère have taken on elevated significance.

The firm’s media shops — which embrace society journal Paris Match in addition to JDD and Europe 1 — are carefully adopted by the enterprise and political elite and are seen as influential in shaping public opinion.

Emmanuel Macron appeared on the quilt of Paris Match eight instances throughout his long-shot bid for the presidency in 2017, and his ministers continuously grace the quilt of JDD on Sundays to make bulletins that set the political agenda for the week.

“The JDD is one of the strongest tools of political power in France, so it is no accident that these changes are happening just before the elections,” mentioned one former worker.

The paper has a circulation of about 150,000 however punches above its weight when it comes to its affect, whereas Paris Match sells about 550,000 copies every week.

Bolloré’s rising affect within the media may affect the course of the following election by showcasing cultural and identification points quite than matters just like the economic system or atmosphere, analysts say. CNews has already helped launch one in every of its star presenters, the far-right polemicist Eric Zemmour, into politics.

Paris Match, one of the titles in the Lagardère stable
Presidents and potential presidential contenders have all graced the quilt of influential society journal Paris Match, one of many titles within the Lagardère secure

Espousing an anti-immigration agenda and lamenting what he sees as France’s decline, Zemmour has come from nowhere since summer time to poll in second place in behind Macron as a possible presidential candidate and pushed established far-right contender Marine Le Pen into third place.

Bolloré, who has historically supported centre-right causes and is near former president Nicolas Sarkozy, has not publicly backed Zemmour however is claimed to understand lots of his concepts, together with on crime, in accordance with individuals conversant in his considering.

“Bolloré has gone step by step to furnish the radical right a place to express themselves, and they now have access to mainstream media outlets,” mentioned Virginie Martin, a political-science professor at Kedge Business School in Paris. “They never had that before and that kept a glass ceiling over far-right politicians like Jean-Marie Le Pen and Marine Le Pen.”

If regulators approve Vivendi’s bid for Lagardère, Bolloré will in impact management France’s largest pay-TV operator, Canal Plus; its largest e-book writer, Hachette; the broadly watched 24-hour information channel CNews; Europe 1 radio; JDD; Paris Match; and a dozen different magazines.

Academics and historians have expressed concern in regards to the focus of media possession in France, not solely in Bolloré’s palms but additionally these of different rich proprietors. The Bouygues household personal the largest personal broadcaster TF1 and are looking for approval to buy smaller rival M6. Telecom tycoons Patrick Drahi and Xavier Niel, and LVMH boss Bernard Arnault, additionally personal key shops.

“Bolloré is not the first rich person to invest in the press but he stands apart for how he weighs on the editorial line of his outlets,” mentioned media historian Christian Delporte. “There is a political project behind all this.”

Officially the departure this week of Gattegno, who was editor of each JDD and Paris Match, was determined by Lagardère CEO Arnaud Lagardère, and the pinnacle of the information, Constance Benqué. But a number of individuals contained in the group mentioned Bolloré pushed for the change.

Vivendi and Lagardère declined to remark.

Gattegno was changed by Patrick Mahé at Paris Match and Jerome Bellay at JDD, each of whom have been named as common managers. Two deputies have been promoted to editor in chief.

People who know Gattegno describe him as a controversial however good editor identified for defending Sarkozy in his legal woes and taking a tough line in opposition to normalising the far-right in France.

No causes got publicly for his departure. But some speculated that among the many components have been his critique in an editorial of Zemmour as a “prophet of doom” and the choice to place the 63-year-old married father of three on the quilt of Paris Match final month embracing his 28-year marketing campaign adviser Sarah Knafo.

“Bolloré wanted his head,” mentioned one firm govt. “And he got it.”

Additional reporting by Domitille Alain

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