When the information had to be disturbing

Letter from Annie Thonon to the Association of Professional Journalists, against the decision not to renew the press card of Alexandre Penasse.

Ladies and Gentlemen, journalists members of the Professional Association of Belgian Journalists,

I am addressing you all as a concerned citizen but also and especially as the daughter of an eminent journalist, Pierre Thonon, and as a collaborator, throughout my career as a director at RTBf, of other talented journalists of great probity, André Dartevelle, Lucien Latin, Michel Caraël, Anne Martynow-Remiche, Gerard de Sélys,.… who had at heart to respect the recommendations of the former director general of RTBf, Robert Wangermee, for whom, far from complacency and received ideas, the information had to be disturbing…

Since my childhood, and long after, I have witnessed my father’s passion for a profession that he considered « one of the most beautiful in the world ». It was a demanding passion that required a great deal of work and commitment, but above all a great deal of intellectual honesty in order to get as close as possible to the truth, beyond the hidden interests.

A joyful passion too: my father was happy with his job, with his life, so much so that when old age no longer allowed him to practice it, he preferred to leave this world.

If I speak to you about him, it is because I find this energy, this rigor, this incessant work, this joy also, in Mr. Alexandre Penasse. I have known the periodical Kairos, of which he is the editor, since I can remember. In June 2012, « Les Amis du Monde Diplomatique », of which I was a member, had invited him, together with Henri Goldman for « Politique » and Paul Herman, at the time RTBf columnist, to participate in a meeting-debate on media willing to offer independent information « A contre-sens-unique » . The first issue of Kairos « Antiproductivist Journal for a decent society » had just been published. Ten years later, it celebrated its 50th issue. When we know how difficult it is to produce a newspaper without advertising, independent, without industrial or financial « supporters », we can only salute the work of Mr. Penasse and his team.

Without agreeing with all the articles published in Kairos, it’s not a bible…, I always found « grist for the mill », rigorous authors, interesting articles, thorough, developing different ideas, e.g. sobriety, degrowth, resistance to the drifts of the all-digital world…, conducive to debate and reflection, far from this soft, humming and mind-numbing single thought, and I learned quite a few things… I therefore do not understand and am extremely shocked by the decision that deprives your colleague of a press card that is more and more necessary nowadays.

As for the reason that would be invoked to deny him his card, namely that Mr. Penasse was not salaried by Kairos for a few months in 2019, while continuing to work voluntarily for the newspaper, and did not want to cumulate two incomes, this shows, in my opinion, a great honesty that would rather deserve admiration than a sanction…

On the other hand, I remember some fat envelopes of cash distributed by the EU to journalists covering meetings in Luxembourg or Strasbourg for « hotel expenses » etc., journalists who « forgot » to benefit, like all staff on the move, from official expense accounts(1)… But I assume that the AJP’s Board of Ethics has put a stop to this kind of corrupt practice and that you and your colleagues are now adopting Mr. Penasse’s virtuous behavior.

I know that many of you still want to practice your profession with enthusiasm and honesty. I hope that many of you will relay my request and demand from the authorities and ad-hoc commissions that Mr. Penasse be given back his highly deserved press card. Let’s be careful not to let an arbitrary system take hold, under false pretences, which could one day strike any journalist who is even slightly disturbing…

Wishing you a year 2022 rich in true journalism that, as Ms. Gabrielle Lefèvre so aptly wrote in 2012,  » can only be exercised in a democratic society, freely. But what about the thousands of colleagues who are forced to work in dictatorial, corrupt systems, where they have to compromise and practice their profession with complacency, simply to avoid starving to death or to save their skin? This makes our own compromises unacceptable because we have the means to practice our profession in complete freedom. And this makes our solidarity with the struggles for human rights indispensable, because they allow us to achieve democracy, the guarantee of a free press, independent of all kinds of power. Only then can the deontological requirement of moral independence of the journalist be applied. » (Quarterly newsletter of the « Friends of Le Monde Diplomatique — Belgium n° 52 July-August-September 2012)

(I am attaching to this letter the full copy of the very nice article by Mrs. Gabrielle Lefèvre (current president of the Press Card Accreditation Commission) written after the meeting « A contre-sens-unique ») — 

Annie Thonon, retired director

PS: In reaction to the article published today on the AJP website « Press cards: to clear up a misunderstanding », even if, to use the famous phrase, « journalism is — also — a combat sport », I find it disdainful, both for them and for those who love sport, to call those who appreciate Alexandre Penasse’s work « supporters ». It would not occur to me to qualify Mrs. Béatrice Delvaux or Mr. Francis Van de Woestyne as « supporters » of one or the other politician or scientific expert, and yet… I therefore do not consider myself as a « supporter » of Mr. Penasse, but, at the risk of repeating myself, as someone who knows how to recognize and appreciate a real journalist’s work.

Notes et références
 
  1. Cet état de chose nous a été confirmée à l’époque par l’attachée de presse distributrice des enveloppes.
 
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