Late last year in Paris, employees working at a 24-hour news channel, i-Tele, went on strike for 31 days. The strike was part of a much larger controversy that pits journalists against one of France's richest and most powerful men, Vincent Bollore.
Bollore had been waging a battle with its editorial staff since the summer of 2015 when he overhauled almost the entire management of the Canal media group, of which i-Tele is one component.
Vincent Bollore is a great entrepreneur - he's been very successful in all his businesses, but he has a big problem with journalism. He doesn't understand that journalists aren’t motivated by making money for the group they belong to.
Bollore's media and entertainment conglomerate Vivendi has been the Canal group's sole owner since late 2013. Since then, critics have accused him of cracking down on critical journalism - especially when it targets his business interests.
In the past year, he scrapped a flagship investigative journalist show, sued a number of journalists for exposes on his business affairs and targeted the country's most watched, most irreverent political satire shows.
Then there is the African angle - much of Bollore's business is there. And journalists holding him to account for misdealings have been sacked, sued and their reports taken off air.
The Listening Post's Marcela Pizarro reports from Paris on the French media sector becoming increasingly concentrated in fewer corporate hands.
Employees at i-Tele took to the picket line in a showdown triggered after Bollore hired talk show host Jean-Marc Morandini to present a prime time show - despite having been accused of a number of counts of sexual wrongdoing.
Since Bollore took control of Vivendi Group, which also owns Canal and i-Tele, "he's made enormous cuts to the budgets and fired a lot of employees. He then brought in his own men and put them at the head of various departments at Canal Plus and imposed them on newsrooms. Journalists at i-Tele asked him to, at the very least, sign a code of ethics which would guarantee journalistic independence - but he refused," says Julia Cage, author of 'Saving the Media: Capitalism, Crowdfunding, and Democracy.'
Thus, "the strike was a response to the fact that Vincent Bollore has no clue what to do with i-Tele. For the last 18 months, the journalists working there have been uncertain about what the future holds," says Patrick Eveno, media scholar, Sorbonne University.
Bollore had made his fortune from paper - not for news - but the thin variety used to make cigarettes - and to publish the Bible - before going into construction and advertising.
Many parliamentarians say they are alarmed at the degree of corporate concentration in the French media sector in general - that this is a part of a wider trend that must be stopped. They're trying to push a new law through parliament, a piece of legislation that some call the anti-Bollore law but that others say is about media independence as a whole.
"Bollore is a symptom of a bigger problem. In the US Jeff Bezos bought Amazon and in France, [Pierre Berge, Xavier Niel, and Matthieu Pigasse] bought Le Monde. Patrick Drahi took over L'express, BFM and RMC. And now Bollore has joined them. All these millionaires from outside the media are buying them up and they are slowly gaining control over the world's biggest media groups. This phenomenon is a real threat to independent journalism," says Cage.
Contributors: Jean-Baptiste Rivoire, investigative journalist; Tristan Waleckx, journalist, France 2; Julia Cage, author of 'Saving the Media: Capitalism, Crowdfunding, and Democracy;' Patrick Eveno, media scholar, Sorbonne University.
Source: Al Jazeera