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France14 May 2007

Journalists urged to be on guard for government pressure after weekly kills story about Sarkozy’s wife

Reporters Without Borders voiced concern today at a decision by the management of Journal du Dimanche, a weekly owned by the Lagardère group, not to run a story reporting that Cécilia Sarkozy, the wife of President-elect Nicolas Sarkozy, did not vote in the second-round of the presidential election.

“Respect for privacy is very important, but under no circumstances should it be used to suppress news and information that is unquestionably of public interest,” the press freedom organisation said. “We do not know if direct or indirect pressure really was put on Journal du Dimanche’s management in this case. But managing editor Jacques Espérandieu acknowledged to AFP that he received calls ‘insisting on the very private and personal nature’ of this information.”

Reporters Without Borders continued: “We obviously cannot forget the precedent of Alain Genestar’s dismissal as executive editor of Paris Match, also owned by the Lagardère group, after publishing a photo of Cécilia Sarkozy with her then partner in August 2005. Even if we are not in the habit of meddling in the internal editorial decisions of privately-owned news media, we urge journalists to be on their guard. Given Nicolas Sarkozy’s friendship with several media group owners, we will be very watchful as his presidential term gets under way, and we will be ready to criticise anything resembling government pressure on the media.”

The organisation added: “This case highlights the need for a thorough debate in France about relations between the political authorities, media owners and journalists. It is now more necessary than ever to work out how to protect the interests of those who invest in the media and at the same time to guarantee the editorial independence of their staff.”, a website launched by former Libération journalists, alleged yesterday that Journal du Dimanche’s decision to kill a story about Cécilia Sarkozy’s failing to vote in the second round was a result of pressure from owner Arnaud Lagardère and the president-elect’s aides. The claim was denied by Nicolas Sarkozy spokesman Frank Louvrier.

Espérandieu, the newspaper’s managing editor, insisted that he was the one who took the decision not to print the story because he could not get a reaction from Cécilia Sarkozy or anyone close to her and because he thought the information was “a private matter.”

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