France Insider/Paul Ben-Itzak

January 30, 2009

Laurent Joffrin’s Media Condescension

Here’s the thing about conspiracy theories: Even if at the end of the day they’re proven to have little factual basis, they don’t come out of nowhere but often start with a suspicion based in reason. Let’s take, for example, one of the most apparently extreme of recent times: The so-called 9/11 Truth Movement. If you look at it from the factual perspective, the idea that the 2001 attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon were not the work of terrorist fanatics but the government is ludicrous. *But*, if you look at how the Bush-Cheney administration immediately went to work to exploit these attacks for own agenda of hegemony and abuse of human rights abroad and suppression of civil rights at home, well then, it becomes at least more understandable that some citizens might think that they went so far as to create the incident that created the opportunity. In effect, by simply dismissing the conspiracy theorists as lunies and not probing further into their motivations, one misses an opportunity to look at the genuine concerns that might have lead them to this improbable place.

But let’s apply this lesson closer to home.

Across the world, the public doubts the mainstream media, whether it be corporate- or state-owned. And they have reason. At least in the U.S., if not Europe, the corp. and state media went along, for the most part, with the Bush lie that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction that justified an offensive attack. (Because for anyone who read or listened to alternative media or the rare lonely voice in corp. medfia, it was no surprise that the weapons weren’t there.) But let’s look at a more recent event, here in France. Listening to France Culture radio this morning, we’re supposed to believe that the same reporters and anchors who joined yesterday’s general strike — regular radio emissions were replaced with canned music — can report credibly and objectively on that same event. Surprise surprise, we’re told that the strike was a grand success. Sure, passing glance is given to the lower police estimates of march participants, but no one — no one — poses the question of whether the strike was justified. Of whether in a time where unemployment is mounting — even here in France — workers who at least have jobs aren’t being a little bit offensive to complain about their work conditions. Of whether the unions’ claim that they were also protesting the loss in purchase power wasn’t a cynical attempt to engage more of the public than the meager eight percent who actually belong to unions.

In between the mostly glowing reports on yesterday’s strike, the France Culture morning program featured Laurent Joffrin, the editor in chief of the French daily Liberation, who’s been making the rounds (of various state-run radio stations) to hawk his new screed, “Media Paranoia.” According to Joffrin, apparently (haven’t read the book), for the most part, all that media mistrust and criticism cannot possibly have any basis in fact, but is a result of public paranoia about the media. To hear people talk, he says, you’d think he calls the (Liberation principal stock-holders) Rothschilds every day to find out what should be in the paper tomorrow.

It’s a nice try, Laurent, but it isn’t so much that we think that just because the Rothschilds own your paper that means you call them every day for marching orders. Rather, what concerns many in the public is that you all live, work, go to school with, party with, interact with and thus rarely question the basis of the thought and actions of your own rarified circle made up mostly of, if not government officials, at least politicians, commentators, and fellow journalists. *You rarely question establishment thinking.* In the United States that might mean that the New York Times is never going to really seriously question the official version, until it’s too late. (As the brilliant veteran British foreign correspondent Robert Fisk once said, the Times might as well change its name to “Officials say.”) In France, for an historically traditional Left-leaning journal like Liberation, the Establishment is the unions and the Socialist party, and you’re never going to question whether they’re right to go call and support a strike. (And, when the Establishment Left and Right back the European Constitution, you’re going to distort and mock the legitimate fears of those who oppose it.)

Instead of roundly dismissing roundly held public concerns as ‘paranoia,’ Joffrin might have looked at his own and his colleagues’ responsibility: How did we get here? What have journalists been doing, or not doing, to provoke such widespread public mistrust — and belief that they’ve advocated their founding principle of true independence? Instead, he’s content to cynically dismiss their concerns; those who criticize the media, as he said on France Culure this morning, “Are often extremists who blame the media” for not paying attention to their ideas “when the problem is their ideas.” Then when the public reacts by buying less newspapers, he has the temerity to warn, “If there are less journalists, there are going to be less people to challenge power.” Ou ca?

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November 25, 2008

Pirate Radio: The news is on strike to protest the elimination of commercials

I guess it’s no surprise that after reporting last night that the teachers, the students, the parents, the train workers, and the emergency hospital workers are on strike, the News decided to join the party this morning, presumably taking the weather with it. (There was only one mishap of mal-coordination; apparently the transport workers who decided to call a Flash strike in Bordeaux last week forgot to tell the teachers, delaying the start of the demonstration.) Thus the hourly 15 minute and half hourly ten minute newscasts on France Culture this morning were replaced by randomly mixed top 40 music, the news team calling in sick to protest a government proposition to eliminate commericals from the four public television stations after 8 p.m. . (As strikes in France often mean not that the employees don’t show up for work, but that they show up but just don’t work, my theory is that it’s the errant newscasters who are torturing us with the randomly mixed music.) Curiously enough, the theme on this morning’s France Culture program — host Ali Badou and the commentators apparently got notes excusing them from not showing up for work — is pirates. So maybe the News is actually being held hostage by Somalia-based corsaires. (Perhaps we can keep the commericals going long enough to collect ransom, anyway.)

The plan to strip commericals from public television, my two regular readers will recall, was launched by President Sarkozy at a press conference earlier this year, in a deft move to deflect reporters’ attention from the fact that the candidate for purchase power had turned into the president of the empty treasury. (Although I guess if we have no money with which to buy, maybe it’s best to eliminate commercials which tempt us with the cars, vacations, and sheepherd tended cheese beyond our reach.) Why is this cause for grievance among audio-visual workers? It’s not that they love commericials, apparently, but that they’re worried about how the State will replace that money and, worse, that the solution — more money directly from the State — will return public television to the days of old, when there was, as non-striking commentator Alain-Gerard Slama put it today, a general inside every television (De Gaulle, not Electric). And indeed, in addition to taking away commercials, President Sarkozy wants to give to himself the power to appoint the president of the France Television uber-network which supervises the public television stations. (Il faut dire que the president did have a good point when he said it’s hard to tell the difference between ‘public’ television and ‘private’; the one broadcasts Cold Case, the other Law & Order. There do seem to be more historical dramas on the public television France 2, most concerning an Occupied France peopled predominantly by heroes of the Resistance, the collaborators relegated to supporting roles. Recent history, from the Algerian War to the 2005 riots in the suburbs, are less frequently treated. As for France 3, the other main public television station, I love my nightly Marseille-set soap Plus Belle la Vie but it’s hardly something you’d find on Channel 13, the egg-heady NY public t.v. station.) Modem Party leader François Bayrou has piled on, saying he’d support a parliamentary resolution opposing the new audio -visual law, raising the question: How can he oppose opening stores on Sunday because we need to teach our children that there are more important things than consummation, on the one hand, and on the other oppose eliminating the commericals which install that ideology on a nightly basis? (The France Culture morning program has just terminated, seguaying into a rap song that begins with a word I can’t repeat without censoring: “N*****s are people.” Now it’s returning to the same mix played two hours ago. Evidently the newscasters just left an old mix tape, recorded off an AM top 40 broadcast.)

PS It seems that History is also on strike, Emmanuel Laurent’s daily France Culture program on that theme having been replaced this morning by afore-mentioned still-running mix tape.

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