Is cash behind French media silence on sex scandals?

Cash rather than cultural or legal differences could be behind French newspapers’ apparent reluctance to write about the private lives of high-profile political figures.

This is the view of financial analysis firm GaveKal which has been looking into the ‘non-inquisitive French media’in the wake of the arrest of International Monetary Fund chairman Dominique Strauss-Kahn on sexual assault charges in New York.

GaveKal chief executive Louis-Vincent Gave said: ‘A quick glance through any French newspaper, or any French TV channel, shows that between 50– 75 per cent of ads are for services or products offered either by a state-owned company (EDF, SNCF, Gaz de France, La Poste…) or a company partially owned by the government (Air France, Renault…).

‘Given this open and overt dependency of the media on government revenues, can we really expect French journalists to be able to stir the pot aggressively?”

Gave said that many French state-owned companies are monopolies meaning customers can’t choose to switch supplier like in the UK. So that advertising spend could be seen as little more than state support for the French press.

He also pointed out that the two largest French media groups, publishing well-known titles such as Le Figaro, Paris Match, France-Soir and Journal du Dimanche, are owned by France’s two biggest defence companies.

Gave said: ‘There is an inherent conflict of interest. You can’t bite the hand that feeds you too aggressively.

‘French politicians get a lot of free passes that you wouldn’t get in most other countries. I think that is why French people don’t read the papers.’He points to the falling circulation of the big three: Le Monde, Le Figaro and Liberation. ‘There isn’t a single paper with a print run of over one million. There is something off in the French media.”

He added: ‘Every single French political scandal of note has been uncovered by either independent minded judges or by Le Canard Enchaine (the sole newspaper that does not run ads).”

Stephen Glover, writing in The Daily Mail last week, blamed the silence of the French media on their tough privacy laws.

‘They do things differently in France. Their stringent privacy laws have precluded the kind of forensic examination to which he would have been subjected had he [Dominque Strauss-Kahn] been a leading English or American politician.”

The Guardian’s, Angelique Chrisafis, quoted the editor of Liberation, Nicholas Demorand, as saying his paper would continue to respect politicians’ privacy. ‘It’s a democratic principle – hypocritical in some people’s eyes, but fundamental … Ditching this principle would lead to encouraging short-term buzz and trash over quality news.”

Lucy Smy is a senior lecturer in journalism and publishing at Kingston University.

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