European journalism interesting practices and innovative legislations

Flagship proposals

Concrete political proposals in support of a civic and social European journalism. Come and comment them !


Views on media and media policies. Do you agree with them?

In the news

Events to attend and news to share

In French

Articles et propositions en français

Home » Featured, Headline, Op-Eds

Le Soir’s probe on media independance: can we be both judge and defendant?

Submitted by on March 7, 2012 – 15:20No Comment

On Feb­ru­ary 2012, the Bel­gian news­pa­per Le Soir inquired into taboos of Bel­gian soci­ety. Among other top­ics, net surfers asked the news­pa­per to inves­ti­gate Media’ s inde­pen­dence. In the panel of inter­vie­wees, a major­ity came from media world. Behind con­sen­sual stands, the dif­fer­ent analy­sis of lec­turer and author (La finance imag­i­naire, Les vieilles élites de la nou­velle économie) Goef­frey Geuens held our atten­tion. What a pity the inves­ti­ga­tion report of Le Soir didn’t even men­tion this interview…

The end result of the inves­ti­ga­tion: quite flat­terer for Bel­gian media

Tke major­ity of inter­views lead to a quite flat­terer end result for Bel­gium: polit­i­cal pres­sure and eco­nomic con­straints do exist, but they are not so strong and jour­nal­ists resist!

The sources of press com­pa­nies’ cap­i­tal are not a threat in Bel­gium where, accord­ing to Rossel group’s (which owns Le Soir) Man­ag­ing Direc­tor, Bernard Marchant, and for­mer jour­nal­ist, Sec­re­tary Gen­eral of the Bel­gium Coun­cil of jour­nal­ism deon­tol­ogy, André Linard, we still find “real press com­pa­nies”, for which “infor­ma­tion is some­thing impor­tant”. Rossel press group’s inde­pen­dence also stems from the fact that none of their clients exceeds 3% of their bud­get. And state inter­ven­tion for a daily like Le Soir only rep­re­sents 2,68% of this same bud­get.

Are things dif­fer­ent for pub­lic ser­vice media, whose bud­get depends for ¾ on state funds? RTBF Pro­gram Man­ager, Jean-Pierre Jacqmin, assures that the con­tract signed with the author­i­ties is a “strong guar­an­tee to freely make our job”.

Adver­tis­ing would nei­ther have any real influ­ence: “pres­sures don’t exist”, says Bernard Marchant. For Jean-Pierre Jacqmin, they well and truly do but the RTBF strongly resist: “No way!”.

André Linard qual­i­fies their say: risks of depen­dence on adver­tis­ers are “big­ger for lit­tle pub­li­ca­tions and spe­cialised mag­a­zines”. He refers to “exam­ples of top­ics that are not cov­ered if they don’t gen­er­ate adver­tis­ing. Adver­tis­ers can also remove their cam­paigns because a pro­gramme or arti­cle is crit­i­cal towards theirs products”.

Con­cern­ing the finan­cial resources issue, Jean-Pierre Jacqmin stresses the weak­ness of state inter­ven­tion for the Bel­gian pub­lic ser­vice media, which is “the least wealthy in Europe, after Por­tu­gal. He warns us: we must pay atten­tion or one day, we will not have the means to carry on our mis­sions any­more”.

In the pri­vate sec­tor, we are more opti­mistic. RTL Infor­ma­tion Direc­tor Stéphane Rosen­blatt assures that The bud­get ded­i­cated to news­rooms is excep­tional if we com­pare to the major­ity of pri­vate chan­nel in Europe”. Yet, he refused to give a num­ber. Despite of financ­ing dif­fi­cul­ties, Rossel’s restruc­tura­tion plans didn’t touch jour­nal­ists, but rather tech­ni­cians. The evo­lu­tion of new media would have per­mit­ted to news­rooms func­tion­ing with more lit­tle tech­ni­cal staff.

Rela­tion­ship with polit­i­cal pres­sures and inter­est groups are also well man­aged by jour­nal­ists. The “news­rooms sys­tem of proof­read­ing is a good safe­guard, says Bernard Marc­hand. Some par­ties and organ­i­sa­tions “bet­ter inform press than oth­ers. Media would be idiot not to cover this infor­ma­tion, because they would not do their job. We have to pub­lish this infor­ma­tion, but we must also won­der why they give it to us. This could influ­ence read­ers’ per­cep­tion. Press must me stay awake and lead to cover more other topics”.

Attempts of pres­sure are inevitable, says André Linard, but “one more time, it is up to jour­nal­ists to put up resis­tance against them. He adds that the Bel­gium Coun­cil of deon­tol­ogy haven’t dealt with any case of polit­i­cal pres­sure yet.

Goef­frey Geuens: an analy­sis swim­ming against the tide

The find­ings from all inter­views were posted by Le Soir on Feb­ru­ary 20. It’s sur­pris­ing the arti­cle doesn’t say a sin­gle word about Goef­frey Geuens’ inter­view, just posted the pre­vi­ous day. The out­side view­point of Goef­frey Geuens brings impor­tant nuances and new analy­sis points rel­e­vant for the under­stand­ing of media independence/dependence phenomenon.

On the cap­i­tal of press groups, he objects: “Our media com­pa­nies are not man­aged by press spe­cial­ist at all. This is a pure leg­end!”. Right that as says André Linard, “we don’t have arms deal­ers, pub­lic works con­trac­tors…” but Goef­frey Geuens rightly reminds that the Chair­man of IPM (La Libre Bel­gique et La Dernière Heure)’s board of direc­tors is Alex Miller, for­mer boss of Dexia, who also sits on the board of two large indus­trial Bel­gian groups, Carmeuse and Spadel (infor­ma­tion con­firmed). Thomas Ley­sen is Pres­i­dent of both Core­lio (De Stan­daard) and KBC. “Affirm that Bel­gian press is man­aged by peo­ple who only have inter­est in this sec­tor is say­ing the oppo­site of the truth […] Infor­ma­tion is a com­mod­ity. The prof­itabil­ity is an objec­tive in itself. This has an impact on work­ing con­di­tions.”

Far from car­i­cat­ural con­spir­acy and open pres­sure the­o­ries, Goef­frez Geuens is inter­ested in more sub­tle soci­o­logic mech­a­nisms of con­formism and in a trend (even uncon­scious) among media pro­fes­sion­als to feed the cur­rent social and eco­nomic sys­tem, with­out never call­ing it into ques­tion:recently, media dis­course on aus­ter­ity and strikes are in this line. They pre­tend to be a counter-power but in this time of cri­sis, they actu­ally play the role of government’s com­mu­ni­ca­tion offi­cers. This is not about con­spir­acy, this is about ide­o­log­i­cal prox­im­ity […] There are dis­sent­ing voices and of course trade union make them­selves heard. But with regard to edi­to­r­ial links, press has already stood up and is not above the fray. This is a real prob­lem. Plu­ral­ism is so lim­ited. On social and eco­nomic issues, there is no mass media any­more to take dif­fer­ent posi­tion towards a dis­course jus­ti­fy­ing aus­ter­ity, approv­ing pen­sion reforms, con­demn­ing strikes…

The same obser­va­tions hold with respect to pub­lic ser­vice media. So where and how can we find new voices and more plu­ral­ism? Goef­frey Geuens offers to sup­port asso­cia­tive media and “work­ers’ demo­c­ra­tic self-management”(coop­er­a­tives).

N.B. 2012 was pro­claimed Inter­na­tional Year of Coop­er­a­tives. In that occa­sion, will work on coop­er­a­tive media and other mod­els like Philippe D. Gros­jean’ Demo­c­ra­tic firm.

Our ques­tions after read­ing the inves­ti­ga­tion of Le Soir…

First, can we be both judge and defendant ?

The fact that a jour­nal­ist, a media give thought to the ques­tion of its inde­pen­dence is a healthy and laud­able reflex. But are they in the best posi­tion to run objec­tive inquiries on this issue?

Behind com­pla­cent inter­views, how to carry out an inde­pen­dent and in-depth inves­tiga­tive work? How to avoid the two traps of either cor­po­ratist defence despite of every­thing, or on the oppo­site, of dia­bolis­ing, in a car­i­cat­ural way, jour­nal­ists and medias most of whom do their job with pro­fes­sion­al­ism and ethic?

In our opin­ion, Goef­frey Geuens brings us some answers on this point.

And beyond the eth­i­cal pos­ture, can the jour­nal­ist prop up alone the fight for Media inde­pen­dence and plu­ral­ism in Europe?

Most of the inter­vie­wees stress the pro­fes­sional voca­tion and respon­si­bil­ity of jour­nal­ists. Those lat­ters would have the abil­ity and the duty to resist to con­stant and unavoid­able pres­sures. Bernard Marchant refers one more time to the fig­ure of pas­sion­ate jour­nal­ist, which loses track of the num­ber of hours spent to work. Rossels’ man­ager advo­cates mak­ing the jour­nal­ist sta­tus even more flex­i­ble in order to bet­ter val­orise “the qual­ity” ( that is to say a jour­nal­ist which “make twice his work­ing time”)… But is that not approach­ing the prob­lem the wrong way round? Is that not paving the way to worth labour con­di­tions and more inse­cu­rity, strength­en­ing bar­ri­ers to a real plu­ral­is­tic inves­ti­ga­tion work, and finally rein­forc­ing stig­ma­ti­sa­tion of pro­fes­sion­als? A snake bit­ting its own tail…

Jean-François Dumont, vice-president of the Asso­ci­a­tion of Pro­fes­sional Jour­nal­ists, rightly reminds us: “fees for free­lance jour­nal­ists not have changed since five, ten, even twenty years… Nei­ther rais­ing nor index­a­tion. This is a brake on their independence”.

What do you think?

Related posts:

  1. L’enquête du jour­nal Le Soir sur l’indépendance des médias: peut-on être juge et partie?
  2. The Demo­c­ra­tic Firm: a guar­an­tee of jour­nal­ists’ inde­pen­dence and media pluralism
  3. Cre­ate a bal­ance between pub­lic ser­vice media, com­mer­cial media and community-based media
  4. Cit­i­zen ini­tia­tive for Media Plu­ral­ism: from Brus­sels to Bologna
  5. Medi­a­dem: For free and inde­pen­dent Media

Leave a comment!

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site. You can also subscribe to these comments via RSS.

Be nice. Keep it clean. Stay on topic. No spam.

You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

This is a Gravatar-enabled weblog. To get your own globally-recognized-avatar, please register at Gravatar.