The disruptive element

The disturbing question that the Kairos editor had the « audacity » to ask the Prime Minister is definitely making waves. On social networks and in some mainstream media, we see a lot of comments, mostly very positive and some with ‑isms coming from people probably suffering from… psittacism. Fortunately, there are more lucid views, such as that of a young and brilliant journalism student from France who is doing an internship with our colleagues and friends at His analysis of the sometimes incestuous links between the media and the political world has been published by POUR and now by Kairos.


He has dared! No, he didn’t do that anyway? Yes, it did it. But what nerve, what hubris, what casualness! He dared. Alexandre Penasse, editor in chief of the newspaper Kairos dared to ask a real question to the Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès at the press conference of the National Council of Security that tries to deal with the health crisis, this Wednesday, April 15: « What democratic legitimacy is there to take these decisions when most of the members who decide and think are part of the multinationals and finance? This intervention has caused an outpouring of controversy on the networks and in the circles of the « alternative left where some people jumped at the opportunity to put the editor in chief of Kairos, accused everywhere of conspiracy and many other words in ‑ism. However, what happened on April 15 is a real threat for the freedom of the press: not only did the first Minister tried to interrupt the journalist’s question without him satisfactory answer but, in addition, the said journalist has was prevented from asking a second question and his microphone was voluntarily cut. While, for once, a journalist decides to ask a question that requires a little more effort than to take up the institutional discourse, when, for once someone is finally calling for accountability to citizens this journalist is censored, in the most extreme way possible. His microphone is simply cut off.

Reframe the subject 

Face to this, one could expect a minimum of solidarity from the of the « plural left », but in the same way, the reality, we have been witnessing for several days on the networks a a veritable surfeit of accusations aimed at the newspaper and its editor. Process of intent, company of decredibilization, militant court, reprisals: everything the world seems to find a good reason to participate in these deliberations, and it’s up to whoever comes up with the biggest scandal on Kairos and its editor. No question here of pronouncing on their the purpose of this paper, which is not to provide an overview of the is not an attempt at arbitration. Without denying these controversies or seek to make them invisible, we propose to approach the subject from a different perspective by leaving the debate (sterile) that revolves around the personality and ideas of the editor in chief of Kairos, to focus on what this event says about the quality of democracy and the relationship between the press and the political power. First, we will see that in the face of the Mr. Penasse’s question, the Premier’s response shows a notorious inexperience of democratic practice, and this, while the journalist’s question was precisely about the democratic legitimacy of the government. In a second part, we will address the issue of media censorship, and the interactions between the media and political power.

From workers like the others? 

A When you think about it, Alexandre Penasse can be happy with a thing: if he has not received a clear answer to his question, the Premier’s response will certainly suffice to enlighten him. While the journalist lists the various private companies for which some of them have worked members of the government or experts called upon to deal with the corona crisis, the Prime Minister interrupts her by invoking their right to privacy: « If you intend to give the CVs of all the people who work and who have the right like anyone else to a minimum of privacy, I encourage you to finish ». This sentence is a double attack on the spirit of the democracy and speaks volumes about the democratic inexperience of Sophie Wilmès. First, it goes against the concept of transparency by enjoining it to not disclose information that citizens have a right to know and, secondly, it seems to refute the principle that members of the government are accountable to the citizens. No, Ms. Wilmès, the politicians are not workers « like the others », precisely, they must be irreproachable. Upon entering the government, they accept responsibility for their actions. to the citizens to whom they must be able to answer answer for their actions, and this has nothing to do with the right to privacy. It is simply a matter of avoiding conflict of interest in policy-making, especially in an environment where crisis situation like the one we are experiencing, where these decisions involve the lives of thousands of people. That some politicians who play an important role in the management of the crisis suspected of having made a career in the pharmaceutical industry is a consideration that deserves the At least some explanations… No? But this is not the opinion of the head of government who seems to consider the right to private life of a handful of politicians more important than the right to information for an entire population. Sophie Wilmès is a pure product of the neo-liberal doctrine and his remarks addressed to Alexandre Penasse are representative of this category of politicians who greatly underestimate the democratic maturity of the citizens. Politicians who have generally started their career in the private sector and for whom the sense of privacy is often more visible than that of the collective. We are therefore in right, as a citizen, and as a journalist, to question their capacity to make democracy effective. 

The urns, the refuge

On In this regard, the Prime Minister was quick to point out that take refuge behind the legitimacy of the ballot box:  » Behind that, the political decision, it is what it is, that is that it is the responsibility of politics. It is the policy that takes these decisions, and behind the policy or before the policy, there is elections, votes of confidence in Parliament.  » But as long as, in the discourse of politicians, the legitimacy democratic system will be limited to the election, then it will have to be beware. Today, many citizens no longer believe in election and the party system. They ask for real pledges democracy and more deliberation. And that we stop believe that the urgency of the health situation justifies the of the formation of a government to take action. decisions quickly: the people are « mature » enough to know what is good for him. Citizens are not children. This health and social crisis could very well have been the opportunity to renew the tools of democracy towards more deliberative forms. Thus, the almost Pavlovian reflex that the Prime Minister has had by brandishing her legitimacy to defend themselves, reveals once again the lack of democratic culture of the political class as well as the lack of interest in the need to rethink the democracy.

Media and politics: a tacit collusion

After to have analyzed what this event meant for the state of the of democracy and the way it was practiced in the the top of the state, let’s focus on the meaning it takes in the framework of the relations between the press and the power. On this subject, this sentence from Sophie Wilmès is more than eloquent: « You have just introduced into this press room the biased question politically, which is not usually the habit of journalists. So be it. Besides the fact that this consideration is impertinent (since as we have shown throughout the first part of this article, Alexandre Penasse’s question had more to do with a concern for the general interest than for any partisan orientation) it reveals the practices of the of power with the journalists who play a role of political communication more than they provide real work journalistic. This is not surprising when you see the how journalists are trained in journalism schools. journalism or political studies institutes in France, where they are in direct contact with the future political class of the country. In these schools, the registration fees and competitive exams are so dissuasive that they perpetuate a the economic elite, which will become a major source of income in the future. then the political elite, and the media elite of the country. But the sociological origin of the journalists does not explain everything: it is also a tacit collusion between the power and media groups that are run like a business. multinationals and whose bosses regularly go to dinner with the country’s political elite. Under these conditions, what margin of is there any room for journalists to deviate from the discourse institutional? None. The effects of these connections between journalists and politicians are the uniformity of information, the control of thought and the asphyxiation of what makes the essence of democracy: freedom of the press. 

A dunce among good students

And you have to see them at work, these journalists who do not show any solidarity when they are in the middle of the class. of this press conference, exhilarated by the emulation and the competition. It is up to the person who asks the question first, and the best question, the most eloquent one, the one that will allow the Prime Minister to make a speech of national unity of circumstance:  » Is it that you regret with a little hindsight on the management of the crisis, when you see the drama that is being played out in nursing homes currently, that you didn’t make the decisions sooner?  » So of course, when this dunce of Alexandre Penasse comes disrupt the class with embarrassing questions, the good students will not risk compromising themselves by flying to his rescue. Especially since his newspaper Kairos contributes largely to denounce this collusion between the media and power, which deserves a zero on the copy, along with of a punishment. This is exactly what it is all about: Penasse was put in the corner. Muzzled, forbidden to speak. The microphone has has been cut. Censorship can take several forms: the corruption is one of them, but intimidation is another. part. Yet, in the age of confinement, freedom of the press and transparency are more important than ever to deliver to the quality information on how to make the best use of the resources available to them. the crisis is managed. As the academic Jean de Munck in a recent article published at POUR: « The ongoing epidemic provides vivid evidence of this: for collective effectiveness, the worst threat is that of the concealment of information and the absence of controversy […] It is essential that information circulate quite freely to allow for ongoing deliberation about policies to be implemented. » A free and independent press is the key to a healthy democracy. would therefore be a necessary condition to get out of this crisis, which seems to escape the current government, and brings us back to to the observation of democratic inexperience developed in the first part of this article. 

FOR a deconfined press!

Suite to the intervention of this journalist, the polemics which the networks of the alternative left should not make us forget the to lose sight of what this event says about our democratic and media practices. The objective here is not to not to make Mr. Penasse look like a martyr or a hero, but to to denounce the confinement (because that is what it is all about) of the press in the orbit of the political power. As if by chance, the mainstreammedia have relayed accusations of conspiracy and use the terms It is not a « bad feeling » or an « inappropriate question », surfing on the wave that divides the actors of the plural left, between pro and con Alexandre Penasse. In full containment, this controversy quickly took over within a left-wing poorly emancipated from the logics of power and ambition. But these dithering make us lose sight of the essential: the carelessness the government to respect democracy in a time of crisis. crisis, and the role of the media in perpetuating a system which leads the citizen to blindly consent to the political decisions. And to suffer the consequences. 

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