FINANCE

Conservative billionaire Vincent Bollore has taken hold of the French media


When reporters at the French weekly Broadsheet Journal du Dimanche gathered at a newsroom meeting this week to discuss the sudden expulsion of headline editor Harvey Gatagno, the atmosphere was a funeral.

Many in attendance feared that Vincent Bollore, the conservative billionaire who controls media group Vivendi, had made his mark in the press before the pending takeover of his parent company, Lagarde, was finalized.

They had reason to be concerned: Bollore, who has made the most of his fortunes in logistics and transportation in Africa and through intelligent corporate campaigns, has a track record of modifying media acquisition staff, style and content. The tycoon, who comes from a family of traditional British Catholics, has long believed that the French media was too leftist and that people familiar with his thinking wanted to create a counterweight.

In Vivendi, he handles disrespectful satire on pay-TV operator Canal Plus and then fires its CEO. He used a month-long strike on news channel I-Tele to snatch one-third of the newsroom, paving the way for it to be rebranded as CNews, a news and opinion channel inspired by the right-wing U.S. champion Fox News.

The changes to Lagarde’s Europe 1 radio station in the summer prompted a strike by journalists and a mass exodus. As Lagardère’s largest shareholder, Vivendi parachuted CNews stars to replace several experienced hosts at one-time mainstream outlets. He instructed that Sinuez be broadcast live on the station’s airwaves on weekend mornings.

“We share an office building with Europe 1, so we all know what happened there,” said a JD reporter who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. “People are very worried that the editorial line will change, just as it is in other media outlets that have gone to Bollor’s ownership.”

As France prepares for next April’s presidential election, changes in Lagarde have become even more important.

The company’s media outlets – including the Society Magazine Paris match as well as the JDD and Europe 1 – are closely followed by business and political elites and are seen as influential in shaping public opinion.

Emmanuel Macron appeared eight times during the long-shot bid for the presidency in 2017 on the cover of the Paris match, and his ministers often make announcements on the cover of the JDD on Sundays that set the political agenda for the week.

“The JDD is one of the most powerful tools in France’s political power, so it is no accident that these changes are taking place just before the election,” said a former employee.

The circulation of the paper is about 150,000 but more than its weight in terms of impact, while the Paris match sells about 550,000 copies a week.

Analysts say the growing influence of bullying in the media could affect the way to the next election by highlighting cultural and identity issues rather than issues such as the economy or the environment. CNews has already helped one of its star presenters, far-right politician Eric Jemur, get into politics.

The president and potential presidential rivals have all covered the influential Society magazine Paris Match, one of the headlines at Lagarde’s Stables.

Supporting the anti-immigration agenda and lamenting what he sees as the fall of France, Jammu did not come to vote behind Macron as a potential presidential candidate in second place since the summer and pushed established far-right rival Marine Le Pen to third place.

Bollore, who has traditionally supported center-right causes and is close to former President Nicolas Sarkozy, did not publicly support Jemur but is thought to have praised many of his ideas, including crime, according to people familiar with his thinking.

“Balore has gradually given radicals a place to express themselves, and they now have access to mainstream media outlets,” said Virgin Martin, a professor of political science at the Cage Business School in Paris. “It wasn’t like that before them and it put a glass roof over right-wing politicians like Jean-Marie Le Pen and Marine Le Pen.”

If regulators approve Vivendi’s bid for Lagarde, Bologna will effectively control Canal Plus, France’s largest pay-TV operator; Its largest book publisher, Hatchett; Widely viewed 24-hour news channel CNews; Europe 1 Radio; JDD; Paris match; And a dozen more magazines.

Academics and historians have expressed concern about the centralization of media ownership in France, not only in the hands of Boloor, but also in other wealthy owners. The Bouygues family owns the largest private broadcaster TF1 and is seeking approval to buy the smaller rival M6. Telecom tycoons Patrick Drahi and Xavier Neal and LVMH boss Bernard Arnault also own the main outlet.

Media historian Christian Delport says “Balor is not the first rich man to invest in the press, but he stands out for how he weighs in on the editorial lines of his outlets.” “There is a political project behind all this.”

Gattegno’s official departure this week, which was edited by both JDD and Paris Match, was decided by Lagardère CEO Arnaud Lagardère and news chief Constance Benque. But several people within the group say Bollore has pushed for change.

Vivendi and Lagardère declined to comment.

Gatagno, who replaced Patrick Mahe at the Paris match and Jerome Belaya at the JDD, were both named general managers. Two deputies were promoted to the post of chief editor.

Those who know Gatagno describe him as a controversial but brilliant editor who is known for taking a hard line against Sarkozy for defending his legal problems and for normalizing the far-right in France.

No reason was given for his departure. But some have speculated that the reason for her criticism in an editorial in Jammu was “Prophet of Troubles” and her decision to embrace her 28-year-old married father on the cover of last month’s Paris match. Publicity Advisor Sarah Nafo.

“Bollore wanted his head,” said a company executive. “And he got it.”

Additional reporting by Domitille Alain



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