Bashing big bosses, the favourite discipline of the French press

It is an antiphon, declared over and over again in public opinion. From high-level intellectuals like Noam Chomsky to the average citizen, everyone agrees: control by the big bosses over the media protects the former from being targeted by the latter. Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber was already warning of the danger of journalists losing control of their media to big business almost 60 years ago.

The hatred of the very rich gradually becomes phobia. All are suspected of complicity with the press and those holding political power, natural accomplices of these great satans who are the rich. 

Are the big bosses so pampered by the press? Upon closer examination, this position seems rather difficult to defend. Between the controversies over their remuneration, the chapeau pensions, the case of Didier Lombard’s transition to head of France Télécom, or the not-always brilliant image reflected by the media of Vincent Bolloré, one can reasonably wonder whether big capital is truly spared by the press. 

Bernard Arnault: guilty for being rich?

If owning media companies allowed the powerful to free themselves from bad press, or if belonging to the club of great leaders who control media outlets  were intended to engender positive visibility, how can we explain, for example, the relatively recent and negative media reception reserved for Bernard Arnault’s rise  to the position of the third richest man in the world? The tragedy of Notre-Dame de Paris provides a striking illustration of this, reminding us that any impulse of generosity or humanity on the part of the very rich is generally only received with suspicion.  

Bernard Arnault, France’s first fortune, decided to offer 200 million euros towards the reconstruction of the cathedral. More is needed to cheer up the national media, however, which sees behind the donation only a vast com operation. Between scepticism and derision, some outlets go so far as to assert that the boss, whose activity has remained in France and who pays his taxes to the national government, is not doing enough. Is he launching the Vuitton Foundation? We only see it as a way to reduce his tax burden. Does his company LVMH provide internships for young people from the suburbs? All we see is manoeuvers and calculations.  “It is quite appalling to see that in France we are criticized even when we do something that is proof of public interest,” said Bernard Arnault. If he wants to continue his good deeds, he is condemned to be dragged through the mud by the press. His case is far from being an isolated occurrence: names like Niel, Pigasse, or Bergé also have the honour of this vein of criticism.

Big bosses doomed to bad press?

At the same time, it is relatively rare to come across a paper praising the entrepreneurial spirit of these builders and their sense of the common interest. For example, School 42 and Xavier Niel’s Station F are among the places aiming to enable France to become a full-fledged part of a rapidly changing world where technological advances could lead to a  downgrade were no effort to be made. In the United States, such visionaries are celebrated. In France, you don’t even get a “thank you.”

One may wonder who benefits from the fantasy of a press in the hands of big capital and exclusively serving their interests? Perhaps the answer lies in the journalists themselves, who, when they speak out against one of these industry bosses, demonstrate their courage at little cost and in so doing, exacerbate in public opinion the feeling of inequality, which in turn leads to the renewal of an anti-rich discourse by the extremes. France likes to hate its rich and finds it difficult to forgive them for the original sin of their fortune. Doesn’t Daninos remind us of this very well? The famous comedian said that if the American onlooker, seeing a billionaire in a Cadillac, enjoyed dreaming of the day when he could do the same thing himself, the French onlooker dreamed of the day when he could get the billionaire out of the vehicle to make him work like everyone else. 

Is the impulse to burn down great fortunes a positive formula in a globalised economy where all nations look at such tycoons with soft eyes in order to attract investment? “Get the big fortunes out of the media” is an idea that may seem simple and attractive. But the reality is that media companies will always need capital to operate and remunerate its human resources: its journalists.

Yes, it is healthy for successful entrepreneurs to create jobs, pay their taxes in France, and preserve heritage and the arts when given the opportunity. Those who say otherwise are arguing in bad faith. 

This article was first published by Values4Europe.

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About Bill Wirtz

My name is Bill, I'm from Luxembourg and I write about the virtues of a free society. I favour individual and economic freedom and I believe in the capabilities people can develop when they have to take their own responsibilities.

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