France’s leading Sunday newspaper, Le Journal du Dimanche (The JDD), has called off one of the longest media strikes in recent French history after a 40-day walkout. However, dozens of journalists are expected to resign in protest against the appointment of a new editor with a far-right track record, Geoffroy Lejeune. The strike, which began in mid-June, was triggered by concerns over Lejeune’s appointment and the potential transformation of the mainstream news outlet into a right-wing platform.
The striking journalists had hoped that the paper’s soon-to-be new owner, French billionaire Vincent Bolloré, would reconsider Lejeune’s appointment. However, it became evident that the appointment would stand, leading the staff to decide whether to continue working under the new leadership or leave their positions. Lejeune, who previously led a far-right French magazine that faced fines for publishing racist insults, sparked controversy within French media and political circles. The journalists’ union at The JDD expressed that Lejeune’s backing of a right-leaning editorial line, including anti-immigrant language and support for far-right writer and presidential candidate Éric Zemmour, contradicted the values of the newspaper, known for its centrist policy analysis and interviews with government leaders.
Freedom of the Billionaires
While the strike has come to an end, The JDD’s drama reignited concerns over press freedom in France, where a significant portion of privately owned media outlets is controlled by French or foreign billionaires. In response to the situation, Parliament is considering a measure that would allow journalists at government-subsidized newspapers, like The JDD, to have a say in the selection of the editor-in-chief. President Emmanuel Macron has also announced public hearings in September to explore ways to strengthen press independence.
Vincent Bolloré, often described as France’s Rupert Murdoch, has been gradually building a conservative media empire, with a Fox News-style network, CNews, at its core. The conglomerate Lagardère, which directly owns The JDD and reports to Bolloré, asserted its exclusive right to install a new editor. Over the years, several news outlets purchased by Bolloré have transformed into right-leaning platforms, replacing longtime journalists with new editorial lines aligned with his political convictions.
As the journalists weigh their options and the strike concludes, a majority of The JDD’s staff members are expected to leave. Some are forming an association to advocate for changes in France’s legislative framework governing the press to safeguard the independence of editorial staff and protect journalists in the exercise of their profession. Despite ending in apparent defeat, the union emphasized that the fight for press freedom and journalistic integrity is not over, and they will continue their struggle against the influence of shareholders, relying on the law to uphold their principles.