French Sunday newspaper on strike over hiring of rightwing editor

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Journalists at France’s Journal du Dimanche have gone on strike in protest at the arrival of a far-right editor at the helm of one of the country’s most prominent newspapers ahead of its acquisition by billionaire industrialist Vincent Bolloré.

The newspaper’s parent company, Lagardère, on Friday announced the appointment of 34-year-old Geoffroy Lejeune, who rose to prominence as editor of rightwing magazine Valeurs Actuelles and who is close to anti-immigration politicians Eric Zemmour and Marion Marechal, the granddaughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen. 

With Bolloré’s media group Vivendi in the process of finalising the acquisition of Lagardère, the arrival of Lejeune is the latest example of how the billionaire puts his ideological mark on the outlets he controls, such as with news channel CNews and Europe 1 radio station. Both outlets have tilted rightward under Vivendi’s influence to focus coverage on what they cast as out-of-control crime, the risk posed by Islamists, and excess immigration. 

Such an editorial line would be a departure for the mainstream JDD, which tends to be close to the government in power and feature frequent interviews with ministers and politicians. Staff at the JDD have voted to strike until Wednesday and are seeking financial supporters to fund their walkout. 

In a statement, the union called on the management to rescind the decision. “The editorial staff of the JDD refuses to be led by a man whose ideas are in total contradiction with the values ​​of the newspaper,” it said.

France’s culture minister Rima Abdul Malek expressed sympathy for the editorial staff’s concerns. “My Sunday ritual is to wake up with the JDD . . . The JDD can become whatever it wants as long as it respects the law. But for the values of our republic, how can we not be alarmed?” she wrote on Twitter.

Vivendi is on track to finalise its acquisition of Lagardère in the coming months after receiving a sign-off from European competition regulators, pending certain divestments. That will formalise its ownership of JDD, celebrity magazine Paris Match and Europe 1, although its influence began in 2021 as it built the Lagardère stake and parachuted in new editors and journalists.

Lejeune did not respond to a request for comment. Lagardère declined to comment, while Vivendi referred all comment to Lagardère. 

Lejeune will join JDD after being fired as editor of Valeurs Actuelles earlier this month because its owner was concerned about weakening subscription numbers and revenue during his tenure. 

While Lejeune was editor, the magazine was convicted by a Paris court for publishing an article that ran afoul of France’s anti-racism and hate-speech laws. It depicted Daniele Obono, a member of parliament of African heritage, as a slave in chains. 

“Geoffrey is a raw talent in French journalism that we could not pass on,” said Arnault Lagardère, the chief executive of Lagardère, in a statement announcing the appointment. 

In the JDD newsroom, journalists described a mood of shock. “Everyone is united in a form of resistance but without illusions. We have to stand up to protest the arrival of a far-right figure as editor — it’s an ethical and moral question. But it’ll be very hard to change the course of what is happening,” said one veteran journalist.

JDD journalists predict an exodus of staff if Lejeune’s appointment is pushed through, following a pattern that has occurred at other media groups Vivendi has taken over. A voluntary buyout offer is expected next week and journalists may exercise a “conscience clause” that allows them to leave with protections when ownership changes.

While Vivendi has yet to assume full control of Lagardère, critics fear that Bolloré and his executives will use the JDD as a mouthpiece for their conservative views and focus on identity politics and culture war issues. The tycoon, who comes from a family of traditional Catholics from Brittany, has long believed the French media is too leftwing and has sought to build a counterweight, according to people familiar with his thinking. 

Vivendi rebranded the mainstream 24-hour news channel i-Télé as CNews and turned it into an opinion and debate-led channel similar to Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News. CNews has served as a launch pad for rightwing personalities such as Lejeune himself and Zemmour, a journalist and author who made an unsuccessful bid for French president in 2022. 

Unions representing journalists at roughly 30 French media outlets including newspapers Le Monde and Les Echos and television channel BFM expressed solidarity with the JDD staff, saying Lejeune should not be appointed.

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