FRANCE: Les Échos refuses to publish an interview with Minister of Transport too much rewritten by Prime Minister office

(Le Figaro / Translated from FrenchIn the midst of a strike against the reform of the SNCF, the executive closely monitors the expression of the ministers who are in front line.

Replaying political interviews is a tolerated habit in the world of the press, provided that the corrections requested do not change the substance of the remarks. The newspaper Les Échos experienced this mishap on March 13 after interviewing Élisabeth Borne, the Minister of Transport of the French government. In the context of the contested reform of the SNCF, marked by strikes, the Minister of Transport is on the front line … And catches the light of Matignon. Before the publication of the interview in the economic daily, the services of the Prime Minister have modified the words of Elisabeth Borne, so much that the newspaper refused to publish it.

The decision was justified in an article published on Monday by the daily which states: “At Matignon, the desire to control this technical minister can be vexatious. An interview, however cautious, with the latter, was so rewritten by the services of the Prime Minister that Les Echos refuse to publish on March 13”.

On Tuesday, the opposition protested: “I was a minister for five years, I never got an interview corrected,” told the chairman of the group Les Républicains (conservative group) at the Assembly, Christian Jacob to La Chaîne Parlementaire.

Matignon promptly reacted, saying to AFP that “the principle of proofreading interviews is a well-established convention, and that avoids possible misinterpretations in the transcripts of interviews”. The controversial practice “can mainly be explained by the French specificity of summarising the interviews in the form of questions and answers, while the Anglo-Saxon media insert quotes without modifying them in the body of the articles”. “Often, the ministers concerned benefits from re-reading to reformulate, simplify or enrich. That is what happened with the interview of the Minister of Transport“ the source said.

Reinforced communication that annoys

This desire of the power to control as much as possible its communication annoys many newsrooms. Denouncing abuse, the regional daily La Voix du Nord announced last January that it was putting an end to its re-reading methods. “If some interviewees play the game by correcting the technical aspects at the margin, proofreading has become a re-writing exercise for most. (…) So today we end this practice, which will lead us to record the interviews and to return them faithfully in their context“ said Patrick Jankielewicz, the editor-in-chief of the newspaper.

More recently, the move of the Elysée press room outside the palace was also poorly perceived by French and foreign journalists. “This move outside the walls of the main compound is a hindrance for journalists to work” said the Agence France-Presse journalists’ society.

When Valls made El-Khomri talk about 49-3

This is not the first time that the newspaper Les Échos see their interviews changed. In February 2016, at the dawn of the Labor Law led by François Hollande, Myriam El-Khomri (then Minister of Labour) suggested in her interview that the use of 49-3, which bypasses the vote at the Assembly, was a solution considered in the event of a deadlock with Parliament. “With the Prime Minister, we want to convince parliamentarians of the ambition of this bill. But we will take our responsibilities” she warned. A short sentence that sparkled outrage among the opposition. A few days later, RTL revealed that these remarks had not been made by Myriam El-Khomri but added after replay by the services of Manuel Valls, Prime Minister at the time.

Featured image: ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP