Swiss TV bites back at vampire Sarkozy


On 4 June the Swiss public television channel TSR broadcasted a documentary about the relations between French president Nicolas Sarkozy and the media. Vampire des medias, part of the investigative imagenews programme Temps present, claims that “France is a country where it is not easy to be a journalist.”

The Swiss report makes no revelations; instead it compiles the grudges of a handful of journalists, providing interviews and accounts of cases in which Sarkozy allegedly put pressure on journalists and media managers, or was responsible for their dismissal.

Alain Genestar, the former editor-in-chief of magazine Paris Match, recalls being forced to resign in 2006 after publishing pictures of Sarkozy’s former wife Cecilia with her lover. Sarkozy (who was not yet president at the time) is believed to have requested Genestar’s dismissal from his close acquaintance, business tycoon Arnaud Lagardère, head of Hachette Filipacchi Médias, which own Paris Match.

Public television reform

The documentary examines Sarkozy’s influence over public broadcasting in France. Under his presidency, advertising after 8pm has been banned from France Télévisions. This is making the channels more dependent on state money, some have said. The rules for the nomination of the France Télévisions chairman have also been changed: he is now chosen by the president, although the nomination needs the approval of parliament and the Conseil supérieur de l’audiovisuel, France’s radio and television regulating body.

The reform has caused unease among France Télévisions staff.

“I’m not saying that his [Sarkozy’s] aim is to control information,” France 2 news anchorman David Pujadas tells TSR. “But this change inevitably results in placing someone who is indebted to the government, which entails a risk of self-censorship.”

Journalists face retaliation

Vampire des medias describes Sarkozy as a “media animal” who skilfully uses the press. The current president appears on television is three times often than his predecessors Jacques Chirac and François Mitterrand. The documentary shows several scenes in which Sarkozy attacks journalists, publically criticising their work.

Vampire des medias also gives attention to the threat of prosecution for journalists. A member of Reporters Without Borders says France is the country in the Europe with the most legal cases filed against journalists.
A prominent example, recalled in TSR’s programme, is the case of the off-air footage from France 3. In 2008, France 3 filed a complaint after the publication, on news website Rue89, of a video showing Sarkozy on a television set before an interview. Sarkozy is seen getting angry with a technician for his alleged rudeness and discussing the career of a journalist. The police summoned two members of staff from France 3image  and two journalists from Rue89 for questioning (in July Joseph Tual of France 3 was called for the second time).

Recent cases

Since Vampire des medias aired, there havebeen more examples of French journalists’ uneasy relationship with Sarkozy. Early July, journalists at newsmagazine Nouvel Observateur criticized their director, Denis Olivennes, for interviewing Sarkozy for a cover story without telling editorial staff.

This year Sarkozy changed the traditional National Day interview format and gave two interviews instead of one. Former France 2 news anchorman Bruno Masure calls the first interview, broadcasted on France 5 on 13 July, “a model of back-scratching television to be studied in journalism schools” on his blog, hosted by Rue89.

The subject of Vampire des medias is still a heated debate in France. But it is uncertain whether or not the Swiss programme will be broadcasted on TV5 Monde, an international French language channel widely available in France, as other Temps present reports normally are. According to newspaper Libération of 25 June, TV5 Monde postponed the broadcast because Vampire des medias will be shown first in Belgium.

No Belgian television channel has aired it so far.

Flickr images from users Downing Street and blogcpolitic