the French saying goes, is a dish that you eat cold. More than two years ago,
French President Nicolas Sarkozy was taped chatting with journalists in a
On June 30,
2008, this video footage was uploaded on Rue89,
along with a related article by Scalbert. It was immediately carried by a
number of video-sharing sites, but also triggered a sharp reaction from the presidential
palace and, interestingly enough, from
The station began an internal investigation to determine who had leaked the video to Rue89, and, in a move that baffled other French media, France 3 decided to sue the journalist who had revealed it.
Media critics and journalist unions point to a cascade of examples of such intrusions. In one instance, Sarkozy allegedly asked one of his publisher-friends to fire an editor-in-chief who had published confidential information about his ex-wife. In another, Sarkozy gave himself the prerogative of naming the top brass of the public service broadcasting system. In yet another case, he recently summoned the current editor-in-chief of the reputable but financially strapped Le Monde to discuss the economic future of the paper.
Most media lawyers believe that the case against Scalbert will go nowhere and that the European Court of Human Rights would certainly quash a guilty verdict. However, they consider this indictment a new example of a pattern of intimidation tactics aimed at chilling journalists’ freedom by restricting their right to protect their sources.
More fundamentally, they see this as a disturbing episode in the tug-of-war that has traditionally confronted the French press, and particularly public service broadcasting, with the concept of “L’Etat c’est moi,” i.e. the idea that the French president not only owns the public media but also expects decency and decorum from the private ones. This is a losing proposal in a French media scene that inevitably has its sycophants but is too diverse and too vibrant to be browbeaten.
(Reporting from Brussels)