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French Journalists Call Off Strike, Failing to Block ‘Far-Right’ Editor

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Journalists at France’s leading Sunday newspaper announced Tuesday that they were ending one of the longest media strikes in recent French history, but they predicted that dozens might resign to protest the appointment of an editor with a far-right track record as the new editor in chief.

The staff of Le Journal du Dimanche, known for its interviews with government leaders and largely centrist policy analysis, said it had decided to call off a 40-day walkout after it became clear that the paper’s soon-to-be new owner, the French billionaire Vincent Bolloré, would not rescind the appointment. Staff members said they had little choice but to work with the new leadership or leave their jobs.

The new editor, Geoffroy Lejeune, who formerly led a far-right French magazine that was fined for publishing racist insults, was scheduled to take up his new post on Tuesday. Word of his appointment at The JDD, as the paper is known, had ignited a firestorm in French media and political circles, raising concerns that a major mainstream news outlet could be transformed into a right-wing platform. Before the uproar, about 100 journalists worked at the Paris paper.

“Today, Geoffroy Lejeune takes office. He will enter an empty newsroom,” the JDD journalists’ union said in a statement. “Dozens of journalists are refusing to work with him and will leave The JDD.”

Mr. Lejeune was fired last year by Valeurs Actuelles, a right-leaning magazine, in a dispute over its editorial direction.Credit…Joel Saget/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The paper has been absent from newsstands for six weeks — only the second time it has missed publication in its 75-year history — since journalists walked out in mid-June after Mr. Lejeune was abruptly appointed just ahead of Mr. Bolloré’s takeover. This summer, Mr. Bolloré is set to secure a majority stake in Lagardère Group, a conglomerate that owns The JDD and Paris Match magazine.

In a statement, the Lagardère Group said the weekly print editions would resume publication in mid-August.

The journalists’ union said Mr. Lejeune’s backing of a right-leaning editorial line, including anti-immigrant language and support for the far-right writer and presidential candidate Éric Zemmour, reflected values that were “in total contradiction with those of the JDD.” Mr. Lejeune, 34, has not issued any public statements other than a brief Twitter message saying he was honored to take the helm. The right-leaning magazine Valeurs Actuelles fired him last year amid a dispute with the owner over editorial direction.

The drama at The JDD revived longstanding concerns over press freedom in a country where over four-fifths of privately owned newspapers and TV and radio stations are owned by French or foreign billionaires or financiers.

After numerous protests by JDD journalists and a letter of support signed by hundreds of academics, economists, cultural figures and left-leaning politicians, Parliament is considering a measure that would allow journalists at newspapers that received government subsidies, such as The JDD, to have a say over the choice of editor in chief. President Emmanuel Macron also announced a series of public hearings in September on how to strengthen press independence.

The JDD’s direct owner, the Lagardère conglomerate, which essentially reports to Mr. Bolloré, said it alone had the right to install a new editor.

The episode drew fresh attention to Mr. Bolloré, a politically connected industrialist who is often described as France’s Rupert Murdoch. He hails from traditionalist Catholic circles in Brittany and has been steadily building a conservative media empire, anchored by a Fox News-style network, CNews. Several mainstream news outlets that he has bought have been transformed into right-leaning platforms, with longtime journalists swept out and replaced with new editorial lines that analysts say align with Mr. Bolloré’s political convictions.

The journalists’ union said a majority of JDD’s staff members were likely to leave. Some, it said, are forming an association to push for changes in France’s legislative framework governing the press, “in order to guarantee the independence of editorial staff and the protection of journalists in the exercise of their profession.”

“Today we lost a battle, but our fight is not over,” the union added in its statement. “At the end of this historic strike, we draw this conclusion: Faced with the power of shareholders, journalists can only rely on the law.”

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