Debate between the evening and Kairos

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We had been invited to a debate at Ihecs, with Philippe Laloux, vice-editor of Le Soir and Digital Media Manager… In about twenty minutes, we had the time to measure all the morgue of the journalists of the power, but especially their uneasiness, the conscience of their contradiction always coming back to us at one moment or another… Finally, we are not rancorous, so we accept with outstretched arms the proposal of Philippe Laloux of  » come to an editorial meeting  » at Le Soir*. Until then, reading the transcript of our meeting on May 8 will undoubtedly help you understand why bringing the free press into contact with the industrial press is, how can I put it? Difficult… (1) .

Host (Sylvain Anciaux): How do you create information at Le Soir, how do you create an article, what are your sources?

Philippe Laloux: the term is perhaps badly chosen: we never create information, we go and get it, we go and get the information with our teeth, that’s the rule in this business. You don’t get up in the morning and say « oh, what am I going to write about today, what am I going to comment on »; information is a rare commodity, more and more complex to find, and that’s the main job and the role of the press today, it’s to go and find this information, to decipher it, to analyze it, to put it into perspective.

How do we handle the information at Kairos?

AP I quite agree with the fact that we do not create information; at the same time we go looking for it but at the same time we do not create it, we do not generate it by thinking if it will please or if it will not please. We often start with a doubt, a question, a query… I can give a very simple example: the next file will be about wealth. It starts from a questioning that is where we often hear about the fight against poverty, but we rarely expect to talk about the fight against wealth for example, or to put limits to wealth. So we start from there, we do the investigation and everything that follows.

There are 5 [6] issues of Kairos per year, there are 365 at Le Soir…

PL: … much more…

… or even much more… Do you think that the frequency of publication impacts the quality of the information in your newspapers? Basically, what is your relationship with time as a journalist?

AP: There are two points: first, it is simply impossible for us to create a newspaper every day; second, the periodicity [quotidienne] of a newspaper is made for only one thing: a newspaper that comes out every day is made to please the advertisers, that’s obvious. It has to come out every day so that we can put ads in it, so that we can be in line with the advertisers who subsidize us.

Mr. Laloux, you agree.

PL: I will first answer the question before saying whether I agree or not, since we obviously don’t create a newspaper for advertising, since we can obviously make an all-purpose box, which is called Vlan, for example, and which meets that rule. What is important is not necessarily the rate of publication, but the time and resources one puts into doing one’s job with rigor. So if we have the capacity to provide validated, rigorous information 5 times a year, we have to do it, it is very important. There are weekly newspapers that do it 52 times a year and that also have advertising… we do it much more than 365 times a year because Le Soir is not only a paper newspaper, it is also a website. So that’s the main break with the way people consume information today, I don’t like the word « consume » but in any case read or read about information, they do it all the time: we’re no longer in a media model where I stand on my pedestal and broadcast the same message (…) people consume information when they want, when they want, on the medium of their choice. And the main break in this profession is there, namely that the deadline, the limit of publication has become totally accessory, even the support has become totally accessory, what is important is to give information when it is validated. For example yesterday [le 7 mai], the media release at 15:30 a.m. an information giving the name of the future president of the French Republic : well, it is zero merit, because fatally it is on the basis of poll, it is not cross-checked (…)

But often in Le Soir we find the news of the day, the hot news, is it possible in not even 24 hours to cross-check all the sources and publish something that is reliable?

PL: Le Soir is a news paper, and, to be a bit of a caricature, you have the result of the match, but you also have, and I hope you read it, an investigation on the soccer leaks that allows you to dismantle the whole mechanics of the Mercato transfers, where Ronaldo embezzled 150 million. This is not news that falls from the sky, it is information that we seek, that we cross-check and that takes months to be validated.

Mr. Penassse, do you want to respond?

AP: Apart from advertising, of course the market newspaper, the newspaper that belongs to the dominant ones, is also made to shape a certain public opinion and give it certain ideas. So we will never find in Le Soir, or La Libre, as has been shown, ideas that go beyond a framework. So Macron, we make believe that all of a sudden we endorse the result of free and democratic elections while all the media have been actively working for months, especially in this case the French media, to create the candidate Macron and to make him the candidate who passes (…). It is obviously difficult to obtain from a journalist who works in a large press the admission that his bosses are the Rossel group which belongs to the Hurbain family, which is the 100th richest family in Belgium(2)and who is obviously not interested in the Evening. This is not a coincidence.

PL: I think we have here the difference between people, and I have nothing against Kairos and I salute this work as well as the existence of alternative press as you called it… obviously here we are far from a journalistic work; here it is an opinion, we are in the fantasy…

AP: I was waiting for this one…

PL: … yes, really in the fantasy, we let go in a peremptory way…

« Mr. Penasse never took his phone and never bothered to call Beatrice Delvaux! Never! I invite Mr. Penasse to come and participate in an editorial meeting, to live a few days, to do a real journalistic work, to cross-check all these sources « .

You are just making my transition, that’s perfect. In the first introduction to its first issue, Mr. Penasse, you write:  » our era is cruelly lacking in radicality, which in reality appears to be simplecoherence. It is true that as Mr. Laloux has just said, at Kairos we often find a bias in the articles, we can’t hide it, so what relationship should the journalist have with what he produces: should he be completely neutral?

AP: Only those who say they are the least committed are the most committed. Newspapers like Le Soir, La Libre, Le Monde and others are very committed: they are simply committed to capital. I will read you a small excerpt from our dear friend Béatrice Delvaux who, in 1999, wrote:  » the radical no to globalization is untenable in a world where the consumer takes actions every day that take companies beyond their borders. The market remains the most efficient way of organizing economic life, especially because all the others have shown their limits. We must encourage the construction of a strong and conquering capitalism, which will ensure the durability of companies that keep their decision centers in the country « . It should be recalled that Beatrice Delvaux prefaced the book on Albert Frère…

PL: … and she did her internship at the IMF, to already anticipate…

AP: Albert Frère is one of the biggest fortunes. Obviously, we are mocked when we say this as if it were something that was not serious in the way we approach the reality and truth of certain subjects (…).

PL: I have the greatest respect for Mr. Penasse’s opinions, but they remain opinions. Mr. Penasse never took his phone and never bothered to call Beatrice Delvaux! Never! I invite Mr. Penasse to come and participate in an editorial meeting, to live a few days, to do a real journalistic work, to cross-check all these sources.

PL: because obviously…

AP: noted!

PL: …but of course, and I can open my address book to you, there’s no problem, just do your job. Because it is not because one has an opinion or a fantasy where one maintains a certain conspiracy theory… based on what? Because Beatrice Delvaux did her internship at the IMF, I, as a journalist at Le Soir , would obviously be a supporter of capitalism? Of course I would get up in the morning and say to myself  » well, how can I serve the interests of Bel20? « , it doesn’t make sense. We are in the ideology, we are in the conspiracy theory, we are in the most complete fantasy, and the commitment in journalism, the first thing that counts is to go and look for information, it is the only thing that counts.

Precisely, we are going to talk about newspapers that could serve capital, as Mr. Penasse said, and as you defend yourself, Mr. Laloux…

AP: I would like to add that when we discuss, it’s funny because there is always this  » I respect alternative newspapers, but they are worthless opinions, it’s made by guys who just talk like that… « …

PL: Did I say that?

AP:  » These are opinions, it’s not really journalism « …

PL: do some journalism, back up your words!

AP: You should know that in our editorial office, we have Paul Lannoye, honorary member of the European Parliament… (3)

PL: (cuts me off), he is a journalist!?

AP: but you don’t have to be a journalist to do journalism…

PL: as soon as we have a politician who is a journalist at Le Soir, well, Le Soir goes out of business, because we wouldn’t be doing journalism anymore, we couldn’t…

AP: but he left the green party…

PL: Yes, of course!

AP: argue, this is ridiculous.

PL: I argue: he is militant, he is militant!

You say that Mr. Penasse does not do journalism, he has been looking for information here [refers to the file Seriez-vous libre ce Soir], for quotations, he has done a research work, so I think that he has done journalism, but critical journalism.

PL: I read it very carefully: all the data in there is public. I love to read articles that talk about other people’s articles… once again, I don’t find an investigative work where we would have revealed, oh great surprise, that Rossel belongs to the Hurbain family, that Bernard Marchant is the managing director who in another life worked at Arthur Andersen… this is where we leave the field of journalism and start to fantasize in the conspiracy theory, stuck a little bit in blinders and a prism by which we analyze all this, we are in the critic: under the pretext that we worked at Arthur Andersen, we would have made allegiance to the big capitalism and that when I get up in the morning I don’t think about the reader or about the information but I think about taking care of advertisers. Personally, I don’t give a damn. I would like to remind you that in Belgium we are fortunate to have press groups that do not belong to arms dealers or political parties; more than that, we are also fortunate, and here I am speaking for Le Soir, to be in a newspaper where independence is not an empty word: we have been brandishing it for 130 years and we even pride ourselves on it. But inevitably, these are media companies that need to break even at the end of the month. So I’m willing to work for free, but this is not the model of society that we defend, under the pretext that a company earns money it would inevitably be harmful, of course not; to do quality journalism it is necessary that the press company is balanced.

AP: I didn’t say that because she was making money, she wasn’t free. No, we know very well, and we know perhaps much better than the other presses, that to be able to survive we need money (…).

« The elite’s hold on the media and the marginalization of dissenters follows so naturally
of the very functioning of these filters that media people, who often work with
integrity and good faith, can convince themselves that they are choosing and interpreting « objectively » the
information on the basis of strictly professional values. They are indeed often
objectives, but within the limits imposed on them by the operation of these filters.
Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman, The Making of Consent.

Is there a form of censorship in relation to advertising? Are we really free at Le Soir?

PL: Imagine: I want to write an article and immediately I have the advertising department come down to the editorial office:  » Say, you’re not allowed to write this article « . Imagine for a second a country, a democracy where it would happen like that, it would be atrocious. There is a Berlin Wall…

AP: But of course there isn’t! It’s crazy because it was written thirty years ago: Chomsky and Edwards did a fabulous book on it, obviously there isn’t a guy who comes down from the advertising department and says « Hey, buddy, stop! We know very well, that it is a form of self-censorship that is integrated, and that is integrated long before journalism schools, in high schools, in elementary school, in the fact that we ourselves have been readers and listeners of the media as they are. Of course there’s not a guy coming in with a gun. They always compare it with countries under dictatorships, where the resistance is real.

PL: I don’t have the knowledge of Mr. Penasse in neuropsychology, I think he is certainly right…

AP: Maybe it’s because I did psychology, but…

PL: absolutely, but I think you’re right, that advertising obviously uses codes and techniques that make it possible to touch — I have three children and I try to preserve them from all that, and we certainly have the same values as Mr. Penasse and I with regard to that… — I just want to say that there is a part of intention in self-censorship, but not only with regard to advertising. But in any case, we are not dogmatic about it. And I can show you pages where in the middle of the Fortis affair revealed by Le Soir, there were articles on the same page denouncing the board of directors and a Fortis advertisement.

Finally, what is quality journalism for you?

PL : It’s a rigorous journalism, and rigor means being independent, obviously from any economic or political pressure, but also from any dogma, from any ideology… I’m not here in the morning to serve an ideology.

« I argue: he is militant, he is militant! »

Mr. Penasse, to close the debate?

AP: The question, I would like to rebound, is not that people get up in the morning and say « we are going to serve an ideology », it is only that there is certain information that can be said and others that cannot. For us, quality journalism means putting no limits on the work of truth. So, we have to realize where we are: we are in 2017, in an environmental, political and financial situation that is catastrophic, and many researchers say that if man continues like this, in 100 years it will be the end of the road, so the recreation is over. And so that’s quality journalism, it must be said.

PL: I invite you to read Le Soir every day to find out…

AP: … but I can’t do it anymore sir, I can’t do it anymore…

PL: But I’m not talking to you, I’m talking to the readers! … to read every day to get information, because the first to do an investigation on…

AP: I really advise you not to read it!

PL: but then you talk about things you don’t know, that’s not journalistic!

AP: but I can’t anymore…

PL: But you are not a journalist!

For your information, when students, off mic, ask Mr. Laloux if he plans to stay for the end of the show, he answers: « no, I have work, I have a job ». CQFD.

* WE ARE STILL WAITING…

So we contacted him again… on May 11, I sent him an email:

Hello Mr. Laloux,

Following our debate of this Monday, May 8, most interesting, I gladly accept your invitation to come and participate in an editorial meeting, live a few days, to do a real journalistic work, to cross-check all these sources.

How could we best organize this? How did you plan to proceed?

I look forward to hearing from you,

Sincerely,

Alexandre Penasse

The same day, he answered me:

Good evening,

Christophe Berti, editor in chief, will contact you to answer all your questions. At least you will have the most direct source to organize your further investigation. I took the liberty of forwarding your email to him and to have a word with him.

Thank you for your interest.

Sincerely

Philippe Laloux

In passing, the invitation to participate in an editorial meeting became « answer all your questions »… We obviously didn’t get any more answers, so we called him, and finally got him on the phone in June, telling us that he was very busy with the new evening site and would get back in touch with us. We tried again in September, no response. We are still waiting. Of course.

Notes et références
  1. Version longue d’un article paru dans le Kairos 30. Émission à écouter ici : https://www.mixcloud.com/magazineradio2017/les‑m%C3%A9dias-classiques-sont-ils-morts/
  2. Une erreur, distraction, nous avait fait dire « du monde » pendant le débat.
  3. J’allais évidemment continuer à citer les autres rédacteurs de Kairos, alors que Philippe Laloux me coupait. J’admets toutefois que j’entre là un peu dans son jeu de pouvoir, comme si l’un ou l’autre chroniqueur avaient plus de crédit que d’autres, en fonction de leur CV…
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