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Strike at major French newspaper ends as far-right editor enters position

PARIS, France – Journalists at France’s sole dedicated Sunday newspaper announced Tuesday that they were halting one of the longest strikes in the recent history of French media, on the day a controversial editor aligned with the far right took up his post as editor-in-chief.

Journal du Dimanche (JDD) staff said they were throwing in the towel, aware that their decision would mean that they would either have to leave the paper or work under its new leadership.

The strike that started June 22 over the appointment of Geoffroy Lejeune, 34, as new editor-in-chief has caused the influential weekly to not publish six consecutive issues.

The SDJ, the journalists’ association of the JDD, said that an agreement was reached with the paper’s owners, the media arm of French conglomerate Lagardere Group, for the strike to end.

The union acknowledged staff “would not have won” a prolonged standoff with Lagardere.

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Lejeune was until recently editor of the far-right weekly Valeurs Actuelles and endorsed far-right media commentator Eric Zemmour during his campaign for the presidency last year.

French journalist Geoffroy Lejeune poses during a photo session in Paris on September 28, 2020. (Joel Saget/AFP)

“Today, Geoffroy Lejeune is taking up his post. He will walk into an empty newsroom. Dozens of journalists are refusing to work with him and must leave the JDD,” the SDJ said.

“In the next hours, we will be confronted with a painful dilemma – to stay or to go,” the organization added.

Lejeune, who is close to several senior far-right political figures, “expresses ideas that are the opposite of the values that the JDD has carried over the last 75 years,” the paper’s union of journalists said in a statement.

Paris-based press freedom group Reporters Without Borders has said the action – which lasted 40 days – was the longest strike in French media since a 28-month strike by staff of the Le Parisien daily that began in 1975.

Lagardere said in a statement that the JDD’s website would return on Tuesday as will the print edition starting mid-August.

“The agreement also provides… support measures for journalists who wish to leave the editorial staff,” the SDJ announced.

The controversy erupted while conservative billionaire Vincent Bollore was in the midst of acquiring Lagardere Group, which also owns Paris Match magazine and Europe 1 radio, after a successful takeover bid.

Bollore, a conservative Catholic from northwest France, has been gradually expanding his empire to take in TV channels and now print media.

After acquiring news channel iTele, he provoked a record strike of 31 days in 2016, gutted most of the staff and turned it into a conservative platform dubbed “France’s Fox News” by critics.

The JDD, which has weekly sales of around 140,000, has in recent years toed a centrist line and been seen as generally sympathetic to the government of French President Emmanuel Macron.

Racism scandal

Lejeune helped raise the profile of Valeurs Actuelles through provocative headlines and caustic attacks on the country’s politicians and intellectuals.

In 2019, around 400 academics criticized the publication in a joint letter after a vicious and highly personal diatribe against Benjamin Stora, a renowned Jewish historian of French colonial history who viewed the article as antisemitic.

The magazine has also repeatedly targeted Jewish financier George Soros, calling him the “billionaire plotting against France” in a 2018 frontpage headline.

In 2021, the publication was found guilty of racist hate speech after it published a fictional story and cartoons depicting one of the country’s most prominent black MPs as a nude slave in chains and an iron collar.