Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Growling for Colombani

Any of you who have seen me over the past 10 days knows how furious I get anytime I read or hear the French media trying to stuff down our throats their self-serving lying charges (those against Aznar, Bush, and Blair, i.e., anybody whom they don't feel any sympathy with).

So when I read that the Mémorial de Caen was organizing a conference with Jean-Marie Colombani, among others ("QUELLE LIBERTÉ POUR L'INFORMATION DANS UN MONDE INQUIÉTANT ?", organized in tandem with Les Amis de l'hebdomadaire La Vie and Reporters sans Frontières), I knew I had to attend. I wanted to give Le Monde's director a piece of my mind (in a diplomatic manner, natch). Three hours before it started at 7 pm on March 23, 2004, I jumped into my trusty jalopy, and drove the 260 km to Caen, arriving just in the nick of time.

And sure enough, the first thing any of the five intervenants did (with a constant wry smile on his face) was to attack the lies of politicians, ridicule the partisanship of the media, and bemoan the jingoism of the population (meaning those of the US, the UK, and Aznar's Spain exclusively, bien sûr). It was Jean-Marie Charon, "Sociologue des médias" (whatever that means), who opened the débat — the others being (left to right on the admittedly unclear photo) Colombani, Walter Wells, Directeur de l'International Herald Tribune (beard), Jean-Jacques Lerosier, Grand reporter à Ouest-France, and Jacqueline Papet, Rédactrice-en-chef de RFI, with the moderators answering to the names of Daniel Junqua, Journaliste et Vice-président de RSF, and Jean-Claude Escaffit, Journaliste à La Vie et Directeur des Amis de La Vie.

Before I left Paris, I'd reviewed and written down (in telegraph-style) a handful of arguments: these ranged from the Iraqis quoted in Reason, on Iraq the Model, and in Le Monde itself, to Doug's post on Le Monde's partisan mistranslation of Michael Ignatieff's piece in the New York Times.

The only problem was a rather big one, I learned as a I headed for my seat: questions would not be permitted, except in written form on small pieces of paper handed over to one of the animators. So I knew I had to pay close attention if I wanted to find an appropriate moment when to jump in. And I would obviously not have time to develop any of the arguments (especially since Eskaffit seemed to be a control freak).

It happened towards the end. There was a brief lull as Wells was about to make his last extensive remarks. Suddenly everybody turned to me as I let out : "Je pense que nous devons tous remercier les médias français pour leur admirable abilité à détecter les mensonges. Mais je ne comprends pas pourquoi ces spécialistes en la matière ignorent des sujets qui ont été traités dans le Herald Tribune, par exemple." (This was punctuated by Eskaffit's protests on his mike, you realize.) "Nous avons pu y lire des articles détaillant ce qu'on pourrait taxer de mensonges dans le camp de la paix, comme le fait que les Allemands, les Russes, et les Français avaient pas mal d'affaires avec les autorités baasistes, et que Total devait avoir un contrat exclusif avec Saddam Hussein. Pourquoi les médias français n'en font-ils pas autant état que de ce qui concerne les Ricains, les Rosbifs, et les Espagnols?"

Eskaffit was growing increasingly more vocal in asking/telling me to keep quiet (shades of Chirac?) — he claimed that "de toutes façons", nobody could hear me — so seeing the end approaching (and having a hard time competing against a microphone), I pulled out my final ace — the final ace being a book, which I held above my head. (Yes, there did seem to be a somewhat theatrical element to this scene; why do you ask?) "Et en matière de mensonges, il y a ce livre d'un rédacteur de La Croix, qui a été licencié pour l'avoir publié, qui s'appelle Comment la presse nous a désinformés sur l'Irak. Et qui raconte les partis pris des Français pour diaboliser Bush, pour sanctifier Chirac, et pour communier avec les partis de la 'paix'."

Even a few audience members had by now started to tell me to keep quiet, but that seemed an appropriate place to end anyway, so with that I sat down.

As for Eskaffit, he went on talking to the intervenants… ignoring completely what I had said. (While a couple of people behind me asked to see the book.) Well, I felt I had done my blogger's duty, so to speak, so I sat back, pretty content with myself.

Then, as Junqua made his last remarks, I understood that some people had heard me; the RSF moderator surprised me by pulling out his own copy of Alain Hertoghe's book (which he had in his briefcase), and explained that it provided a negative view of the French media during the Iraq war. But then he added that there was another book, detailing the French press's doings during the first Gulf war, with a positive slant, and that one could not read the first book without comparing it to the second. He tried to conclude that Hertoghe's book was a partisan "brûlot" that was not very friendly to his colleagues. (This from a colloque which had just declared that, happily, the old tradition in the press of refusing to criticize one's colleagues had now become "caduc"!)

I wasn't going to let him get away with that as the final word, so I let out another comment: "Les médias ont complètement censuré ce livre!" (But Eskaffit immediately started interrupting again.)

Afterwards, I went up to speak to some of the intervenants. Wells asked to see Hertoghe's book, which he wanted to check out. As for Junqua, he admitted it was news to him that the La Croix editor had been fired as a result of the book's publication.

So, all in all, a satisfying 10 minutes. (But hardly worth doing again, not at that distance. At least not without a couple of chums to have a drink with, afterwards.)

P.S. This is my first post for ¡No Pasarán! Muchas gracias, amigos, for inviting me to participar.

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