The issue of freedom of the press has been a hot topic in recent months in France. In the latest episode, the National Gathering (RN) withdrew – before changing its mind on September 14 – its accreditation to a Libération journalist to cover their summer university in Fréjus (Var).
According to the journalist in question, Tristan Berteloot, the RN had withdrawn his accreditation because of his article on the mayor of Fréjus, also a member of the executive board of the RN, titled: “David Rachline, the little matter of the big bootlicker”.
The RN’s press service told AFP in a terse comment to “read the article” to understand why the decision had been taken.
But, as had already been the case in the second round of the presidential election in 2017, when the RN made a similar decision, the party faced an outcry from the profession, with several journalists hastening to denounce the “serious attack on the freedom of the press” on Twitter.
“The RN as the FN continues to have a problem with the freedom of the press,” said Paul Quinio, the deputy director of the editorial staff of Libération. Faced with the obvious solidarity of the profession, the press service of the RN finally announced that it would be reconsidering the decision, and would allow Tristan Berteloot to cover their summer university.
French journalists were quick to defend their colleague, but there was no outcry when La République en marche (LREM) and then the Elysée refused to accredit the journalists of RT France. Such violations of press freedom from the presidential party, from the executive itself, are not less serious.
The list of examples started two years ago, during the presidential campaign of 2017, when En Marche! accused RT of broadcasting “fake news”, without providing any evidence of these serious allegations.
A few days later, and despite multiple requests for accreditation that remained unanswered, RT’s journalists were unable to go to candidate Macron’s headquarters to cover the election night of the second round.
After the election of Emmanuel Macron, the RT France journalists suffered similar refusals, without obtaining a clear explanation justifying this treatment. In May 2018, for example, a RT France journalist was denied access to the Elysée Palace by a gendarme, on the express instructions of the presidency and despite the presentation of his press card. And there seems to be no change of heart on the horizon, after the refusal to let RT journalists cover the electoral evening of European Renaissance HQ on May 26.
Even if these actions do not outrage media colleagues, they place the executive in a difficult situation. While visiting Russia on September 9, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian had quite a hard time explaining the shackles placed on RT France by the government.
“I think that RT’s journalists work in France in complete freedom, they do not have access to a certain number of places because of a vision of the Audiovisual Council [CSA] which cited certain failings [of RT France] to information,” he said, hiding behind a notice from the French regulatory authority for audio-visual, from June 28, 2018.
In addition to the fact that the latter concerned only a purely technical error, or that the formal notices of the CSA towards other media have never impacted the work of their journalists, Jean-Yves Le Drian forgot that refusals of accreditation for RT France preceded this notice.
RT France’s journalists have a press card and, whatever the government says, are journalists who only want to practice their profession, even if colleagues pretend not to notice that.