The gadfly political commentator Éric Zemmour has come from nowhere last summer to become one of the most popular candidates in next April’s presidential election. He attracts more media attention than the far-right leader Marine Le Pen and the conservative Valérie Pécresse. The fragmentation of left-wing forces has helped, as France continues to drift to the right. But a whole media operation is backing Zemmour’s candidacy.
Éric Zemmour’s rise owes a lot to the increasing clout of CNews, a TV channel backed by the arch-reactionary billionaire Vincent Bolloré. Critics liken CNews to Rupert Murdoch´s Fox News in the US, which championed former president Donald Trump and right-wing causes.
CNews is owned by media group Vivendi, which Bolloré has bought from the Lagardère Group. It has trebled its audience share in four years to reach second place among the country´s four 24-hour news channels, which include LCI, Franceinfo and BFM-TV which leads the pack. Its business model is built on a low-cost news operation with raucous debates on topics from violent crime to the glorious epoch of Napoleon. CNews is not as influential as Fox in the US nor is Zemmour as popular as Trump, but rival politicians and many ordinary Frenchmen are lamenting how the TV channel is setting the terms of the national debate and deepening rifts in an already divided society.
CNews is rising in a period many growing economic disparities and fear of the Other following radical Islamic terrorist acts have fuelled doubts about what it means to be French and the country’s relative decline in world affairs which it shares with its Western allies. The country’s media are often staid whiles decades-old regulations have failed to keep up with the high-speed news cycle and the pervasive influence of social media. That said, the regulator the Conseil supérieur de l’audiovisuel (CSA) requires channels to showcase a range of opinions and impartially doles out time to politicians especially during campaigns. Such broadcast rules do not exist in the US. Other conservative mouthpieces such as the TV channel TF1 and the daily Le Figaro which belong to the Bouygues Group do not share the views of Zemmour as Martin Bouygues interests are not aligned with those of Vincent Bolloré. Through his control of Vivendi, Bolloré has been handed Europe1 radio, Le Journal du Dimanche (JDD) newspaper, and celebrity magazine Paris Match which increased his capacity to shape French public opinion. Earlier this autumn, Bolloré was quick to sack the editor of Paris Match and the JDD, Hervé Gattegno, and replace him with two men, Patrick Mahé and Jerome Bellay who share a long history of association with extreme right wing violent groups such as Occident. This prompted former president Francois Hollande to comment that “Trump had moved from tv reality shows to the White House, but he was the Republican Party candidate whereas Zemmour is the candidate of a tv media group”.
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