Journalists blow whistle over media concentration in France

The European Federation of Journalists has warned the Commission
about the possible consequences if the leading French TV group TF1
were to acquire a stake in the written press.

Reports about France's first private TV channel TF1 engaging in
written journalism through the acquisition of minority shares in
French publishing group Socpresse have raised concerns among
journalists in Paris and Brussels. 

In a press release on 12 July, the European Federation of
Journalists (EFJ) pressed the Commission to consider the possible
alliance from the perspective of media pluralism and democracy
rather than pure business.

"Cross-media ownership has dramatic consequences for cultural
diversity and for independent journalism. Despite promises to the
contrary, it is unlikely that an alliance of a leading press
company and a television group controlling more than 50% of the
advertising market can guarantee editorial independence," said
EFJ's Secretary General Aidan White.

Contacted by EURACTIV, Bouygues - the owner of TF1 - declined to
comment on the existence of talks with Socpresse.

The affair started when French daily Le Monde claimed on 4 July
that Bouygues was in negotiations to buy shares in the Socpress
publishing group. Socpress - which owns about 80 newspapers and
magazines such as l'Express and Le Figaro - had itself previously
been taken over by arms group Dassault in March 2004.

The move had raised suspicions in France at the possibility of
political pressures being applied on the titles now owned by Serge
Dassault, a long-time friend of Jacques Chirac and a close ally to
his ruling party, UMP. The suspicions are all the more relevant, Le
Monde commented in an editorial, "in view of this same Dassault
Group's direct dependence on state orders for sales of its combat
aircraft" Rafale and Mirage.

In a communiqué, the French union of journalists (syndicat
national des journalistes, SNJ) warned about Mr. Chirac's party
(UMP) taking control of information and the "Berlusconisation of
France". 70% of the French national press now belong to armament
groups - Dassault and Lagardère - after the takeover, according to
the SNJ.

In Brussels, the move raised competition concerns about
Socpresse dominating the French market for economic and financial
magazines and its corresponding sales of advertising. The
Commission finally cleared the operation on 17 June upon the
condition that Socpresse sells the title 'La Vie Financière' to
"dispel its doubts".

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