May 14, 2022

With the hearings of Bolloré, Niel and Arnault in the Senate, David Assouline wants to create the debate

MEDIA – Xavier Niel, Vincent Bolloré, Bernard Arnault… The main holders of French media are publicly auditioned in the coming days in the Senate. The origin of this summons? A commission of inquiry launched by the socialist group which intends to “evaluate the impact of the concentration of the media in France on democracy”.

The rapporteur of this commission of inquiry is the socialist senator from Paris David Assouline. In 2008, he had taken part in the change of the Constitution to include there that the law fixes the rules concerning “freedom, pluralism and independence of the media”.

This Wednesday, January 19, at 4:45 p.m., Vincent Bolloré (at the head of the group that bears his name) will answer questions from senators as the largest shareholder of Canal+ (therefore of CNews), of the publishing groups Hachette and Editis, of newspapers as the JDD Where Paris Match and radio Europe1. David Assouline assures that the Breton boss is not particularly targeted by this commission of inquiry while the concentration in the regional press and the merger announced between TF1 and M6 are also on his radar. The one who has been following these files “for years” hopes to create public debate around his report which will be released at the end of March.

How did you get the idea for this commission of inquiry?

I have been working on these issues for a very long time. During the constitutional revision of 2008, I had proposed an amendment which had been adopted to modify article 34 and enshrine in the Constitution the freedom of independence and pluralism of the media. I had also tabled bills on the capitalistic concentrations of the large financial groups which lived on public procurement or on the independence of editorial staff.

With my colleague senator Sylvie Robert, we convinced the socialist group to use our annual drawing rights for this subject. It is a major political subject. The conference of Senate presidents validated it and we have six months to complete our work.

The commission of inquiry is a powerful instrument for working on the merits, searching, obtaining the documents and testimonies that one wishes.David Assouline, socialist senator from Paris.

What do you expect from your work?

The main thing is to shed light on the public debate that did not take place. The commission of inquiry is a powerful instrument for working on the merits, searching, obtaining the documents and testimonies that we want, there is an obligation for our interlocutors to provide them to us. It is looked at publicly and it allows to provoke the debate.

Media concentration has been growing in relative indifference for the past twenty years, with strong accelerations in recent months. It is done quietly and one morning one notices that such and such a title has disappeared or that such and such a title has been absorbed. People do not necessarily know who owns the media, which are sometimes very different, but with the same boss. Concentrations that are too invasive prevent the independence of a free, pluralistic and diverse press.

Is Vincent Bolloré particularly targeted?

No. Three phenomena attract our attention at the moment: the regional daily press held by a few large groups, which is absolutely not the landscape that the legislator wanted at the time of the Liberation. The phenomenon of horizontal concentration, the merger which raises questions between the two largest DTT groups, TF1 and M6, and the Bolloré operations. They make more noise, because they are in even more diverse areas: The JDD, Paris Match, TV, radio, but also the field of publishing.

There is a desire to transform these media into ideologically marked opinion media, which is not the tradition in television and does not correspond to the agreements made with the CSA when it authorizes a continuous news channel. Of course, from the moment when the methods and the scale of the Bolloré operations make noise, we hear about it, but we deal with all of these operations.

It is fashionable to discredit Parliament and politics, I want to work to show that we are useful.David Assouline, socialist senator from Paris.

Parliamentary reports sometimes have the habit of sleeping in drawers, are you expecting concrete action?

Contrary to those who think that it ends up in a drawer, parliamentary work on the merits and in particular in the Senate is a basis for deepening the subjects that many use, such as the government, decision-makers or academics.

One way to fight antiparliamentarianism is not to underestimate our work, I know what happened on Capitol Hill or with the 1934 leagues that stormed the Assembly. It is fashionable to discredit Parliament and politics, I want to work to show that we are useful.

There will of course be proposals, sometimes they are not taken up, often it provokes debate. This type of work should not be underestimated: we are going to make a diagnosis and make proposals. Everyone agrees that the regulations provided for by the 1986 law are more than dated and no longer correspond to today’s audiovisual and means of communication. It should be reformed in depth so that freedom of communication and pluralism are full and complete.

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