« Interview with Edwy Plenel on: freedom of the press, journalism and the Yellow Vests »

11.03.2019 - Bordeaux, France - Rédaction France

This post is also available in: Spanish, French, Greek

« Interview with Edwy Plenel on: freedom of the press, journalism and the Yellow Vests »
(Image by Xavier Foreau)

Mediapart is an independent French online investigative and opinion journal created in 2008 by Edwy Plenel, former Editor-in-chief of Le Monde. Mediapart is published in French, English and Spanish. (Wikipedia)

Pressenza: Today, what do you think of the freedom of the Press ?

Edwy Plenel: There is a tendency, not only in France and internationally, but in fact trans-politicaly, because unfortunately it also crosses the left forces and the right forces. Consequently, this puts into perspective the question of the fundamental right of citizens, which is for me the right to know, which is a more important right than the right to vote.

It is an essential right to have access to pluralist information, to diverse information, to rigorous information, to free and independent information. If I do not have that access, I can certainly vote, but I’m voting like a blind person, and I’m voting for my worst enemy or for my worst misfortune.

It is a temptation today for all powers in difficulty, wherever they are and wherever they come from, even before attacking opponents, to attack this. Either by trying to have a press following orders by political, economic or ideological means, or by attacking the independent press.

I say that because we have to keep all the options open.

We, Mediapart, are leading this fight here in France, but we are also in solidarity with those who are leading it in countries where transitions must be made after the failure of left-wing experiments.

I am thinking in particular of the failure of the Bolivarian experience in Venezuela, and I am also thinking of a country that I know well, Cuba, where this issue is not yet open, and this is an essential issue.

We cannot defend emancipation, we cannot defend equality, without defending this right to know, which is not a privilege of journalists, which is a right of citizens.

After this, a criticism of the media, a criticism of journalism, is not only desirable, but necessary.

But first you have to have this experience.

Pressenza: Is an independent press possible today?

Edwy Plenel: This is the battle of Mediapart.

We are like a laboratory showing the public that it is possible to build an independent press, by taking advantage of the digital revolution.

We have only one recipe: the support of our subscribers, “only our readers can buy us“.

We have no advertising revenue, we do not have this commodity which is advertising, no advertising dependence. We refuse all public subsidies, we do not receive a penny from the State, and we do not have any patrons who control Mediapart: we are masters at home.

And so, we say to the public: “Judge us on the basis of our documents”. Your freedom is to read or not to read us, and you can criticize us if you wish. We are a participatory journal. You have the right to challenge us, you have the right to extend us, but we only want to live because of you.

And that’s where Mediapart‘s experience is a ray of hope, because in 11 years, we have shown by resisting that it is possible.

It is possible to make a cost-effective, profitable newspaper, which has profits every year that we re-invest, living only on public support.

Pressenza: How do you perceive the role of journalists in the current context?

Edwy Plenel: We defend principles that every journalist must defend (rigorous information), wherever they work. I consider ourselves to be information workers.

I do not hate a journalist who works for TF1(*), or a journalist who works for Le Figaro(*).

In the same way that I do not hate a worker who works in the nuclear industry, or in the arms industry.

I encourage him or her to join a union. I encourage him or her to fight on principles, on social values. But I’m not going to tell him or her “it’s a scandal to make a living like that”.

I’m simply saying that if I work for TF1 or Le Figaro, if I work for Mediapart, I must encourage them to fight for the integrity of their profession, wherever they are.

I’m saying this because it is very important. Because there is a form of criticism of the media that is “above ground”, where we think that to inform the Truth, we just have to think correct politically.

Unfortunately, the experience of the left in the 20th century shows us that this is not necessarily the case. You can believe that you think correct politically, and therefore not see realities that do not fit within your convictions. This is the sad story of the balance sheet of real socialism, where there are many lies, many deceptions. So if we want to revive the experience, the hope of emancipation, we must defend this idea that, in the end, we must first fight where we work.

So we, Mediapart, we are on the side of the information workers.

I am a union member, I have always been a union member.

So today, I am the owner of a company, so I pay my contributions directly to the central office, but at Mediapart there are unions, there are employee representatives, etc. So there is a life, a federation of journalists. I think we have to defend that idea.

We are not on a leash, we are people who fight.

Everyone can see in the media how I’m facing a battle against journalism for the government, a certain complacency, for editorial purposes, for creating a buzz, …

But I’m facing it by fighting for the honour of a profession.

Why? Because this profession is at the heart of democratic freedom.

It is not a privilege of journalists: the right to know.

And I always remember that this is not well known. (In Paris,) the Place de la Bastide has a July Column “Les Trois Glorieuses”, the workers and craftsmen of the Faubourg Saint-Antoine: there are five hundred bodies under the column. Why did they die in July 1830? For the freedom of press against the orders of Charles X.

At that time, there was child labour, there was no limitation on working hours, there was no Sunday rest, there was poverty in the factories.

Lamné who was the first progressive priest, who before the communist manifesto, wrote (a manifesto) against modern slavery. That was when he wrote it.

Some people say: “Before our social rights, there is this essential right: we want to be informed”.

Knowledge is a weapon, and that’s emancipation.

We are at the heart of this. So, by saying this, I’m not trying to idealize my profession.

I’m fighting for this profession, but I’m also fighting for this democratic ideal.

Pressenza: Where did the Yellow Vests get their anger from?

Edwy Plenel: What happened with the yellow vest movement shows that obviously there is anger against the dominant media.

Then why is there anger?

Because, as we have seen, for example, the issue of police violence. We had the dominant media looking down on this movement, that did not want to see it and demonized it right away: “not only are they dangerous, but they are racist, antisemite and violent”. And so, as they are judging them from above, they don’t see what is happening.

Thanks to social networks, and Mediapart with David Dufresne, the issue of police violence and its excesses and abuses, came up.

There is a sector in revolt, who read the regional daily newspaper, who watch news channels. It is not necessarily Mediapart, it is not necessarily Le Monde ou Libération or Le Figaro that they read. They say “How is it that we are not being accounted for? ” So, they’re angry.

Unfortunately, this has led to excesses that are taking place, including against journalists.

But behind this anger is something deeper.

In their race to obtain an audience, the dominant media embrace what is the danger today, through social networks, of thinking that my opinion is the truth.

But no. When you are on the side of reason you know that this is not the case.

It is not enough to have an opinion to tell the truth: the debate of opinion only makes sense if it is about the Truth, which concerns the present and which concerns the past. If it is only my opinion against yours, then it is easily my prejudice against yours, my origin against yours, my belief against yours, my identity against yours, everybody’s war against everybody.

Hence the fact that I am talking about the right to know, which is something other than the freedom to say.

And so, what is anger?

There is a journalism that, instead of going into the field, instead of doing its job, understanding, knowing and reporting on reality, is a superficial journalism, of talk shows, opinions, which believes itself more respectable than the anonymity of social networks, but which does the same kind of thing. It gives its opinion. It’s not our profession.

I have opinions, I have convictions like everyone else, but it’s not my job.

Pressenza: What is the role of a newspaper for you?

Edwy Plenel: My job, the role of Mediapart, and that’s what makes it possible for people of different sensibilities to subscribe to Mediapart, is to provide useful information about the world, the economy, finance, politics and social reality. This is a useful journal. A newspaper is a « People’s University ».

It is a place where I learn knowledge, where I discover knowledge.

And that’s why Mediapart is two worlds: a newspaper, and what we call “the Club”, not like Rotary, but in the sense of the Jacobins’ Club, the Cordeliers’ Club : where we debate, and where we can criticize Mediapart, where we can argue about Mediapart’s information, but with a charter where we do not insult each other.

For me, that is the democratic ecosystem, and that is what we must defend.

And there are unfortunately in our current world too many people, including in the political world of all tendencies, who basically, instead of defending this, instead of defending this ideal of a free and independent press, only like the press when it supports them. And no, that’s not our role.

 

(*) « TF1 », « Le Figaro », « Le Monde » are part of the French mainstream media.

We thank Mr. Edwy Plenel for his availability and kindness.

Transcription by Rhian and Xavier Foreau

Categories: Culture and Media, Europe, Interviews, Video
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