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Pro-Macron billionaire fiddles with French magazine’s independence

In the latest flashpoint in the French presidential elections slated for Sunday, a football-loving Czech billionaire has been accused of changing the tone of a magazine’s cover to reflect a tilt towards President Emmanuel Macron, who is facing a stiff competition from his far-right challenger Marine Le Pen.

Daniel Kretinsky, 46, who owns a majority share in the French magazine Marianne, is also co-owner of football club AC Sparta Prague and a major shareholder of English football club West Ham United.

A statement issued by Marianne’s journalists accused Kretinsky of doctoring the front page though the editor-in-chief defended the change as a standard decision made by the editorial board that accurately reflected the content and position of the magazine, the Czech News Agency reported.

A latest poll puts Macron slightly ahead of Le Pen, giving him around 55.5 percent of the votes in the April 24 elections, one of the most bitterly-fought battles for the country’s top job in recent times.

What happened?

According to Tom McEnchroe, reporting for Radio Prague International, the front page of Marianne was supposed to feature the eyes of the candidates, with “Anger” under Emmanuel Macron’s and “Chaos” under Marine Le Pen’s.

Then, somehow, the front of the magazine was changed to reflect “[d]espite the anger” under Macron’s eyes “avoid chaos” under Le Pen’s eyes.

The change might seem minor, but it was still perceived as the magazine was showing support for Macron to the detriment of Le Pen.

A group of editors for Marianne
shared the changed cover with a statement that critiqued the involvement of Kretinsky in the day-to-day affairs of the publication, saying he did not respect the editorial independence of the magazine.

“This intervention by our majority owner, Daniel Kretinsky, represents a serious attack on Marianne‘s editorial independence. It happened despite the fact that [Kretinsky] personally, and even twice, promised journalists that he would respect this basic principle. So far, he has done so,” wrote the Marianne Society of Editors (SRM) in a statement.

Kretinsky has not responded to the allegations till now. 

Le Pen tweeted to thank the journalists at Marianne, saying they revealed “the influence of money on the editorial choices of the media”.

She went on to say, “The French are not fooled by the campaign of lies and defamation that we have been subjected to since we have been at the gates of the Elysee.” The Elysee Palace is the official residence of the French president. 

Marianne’s editors later said the magazine aims to remain objective, and the Marianne Society of Editors tweeted that Le Pen might be in for a surprise with the next issue.

The editor-in-chief of Marianne, Natacha Polony, issued a statement on Wednesday, saying that “the position of the newspaper in the framework of the presidential election was defined by the editorial management, and it alone,” but that she had decided to “listen to all the sensitivities making up the editorial team, while being attentive to the wishes of the CMI group not to leave any ambiguity as to the position of our weekly [magazine.]”

Polony defended the decision to change the front cover, saying that the new title “translates the journalistic reading that we make of the political situation in France, developed in the editorial of the newspaper, namely the observation of an immense resentment, on the part of many citizens, against a system from which they feel excluded and which explains the massive vote for a party whose accession to power would cause no less than immense disorder and would only amplify the fractures.”

Polony also acknowledged the Marianne Society of Editors who had voiced their dissent with a statement of their own, saying “it was heard”.

Polony left the final decision on whether the magazine was swayed by the Czech businessman to the public, and concluded by saying that “[o]ur readers will see for themselves that this issue and all the others bear the mark of our difference and our freedom of tone”.

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