Billionaire ‘French Murdoch’ is building his own right-wing media empire
The seven-episode 2019 American television series “The Loudest Voice” about Roger Ailes, the mastermind behind Rupert Murdoch’s rise of Fox News into a right-wing political powerhouse in the United States, has found an avid viewer in France: the billionaire Vincent Bollore.
The series resonated with the French media baron, a person close to him said. Bolloré has taken his own CNews television channel sharply to the right by tapping into the formula that has largely paid off for Murdoch – catering to a conservative audience deemed underserved by mainstream, mostly left-leaning media. As Bolloré brings this winning plan to his ever-expanding media empire, he is dubbed the “French Murdoch”.
Armed with more than 12 billion euros ($12.2 billion), Bolloré, 70, is boosting its media presence across Europe and beyond. Its holding company, Bolloré SE – a sprawling €20 billion conglomerate that effectively controls media giant Vivendi, along with its film and TV company Canal+, news channel CNews and Hachette, the third-largest media house. publishing to the world – adds operations in news, magazine, pay TV, film and broadcast. Best known in France as a hard-nosed corporate raider, Bolloré says his media strategy is solely driven by business metrics. But many see a deeply conservative ideological agenda.
“While Rupert Murdoch always acknowledged that he pursued ideological objectives in addition to business, Bolloré is well known as a Catholic, conservative, but was not engaged in an ideological fight”, explains Alain Minc, former commercial adviser de Bolloré who has now separated from him. “He recently changed.”
Bolloré declined interview requests about its media operations, while Vivendi declined to comment on the billionaire’s plans for the group’s expansion.
Like Murdoch, who began by shaking up the power structure in his native Australia, Bolloré waded into the French political arena during the April presidential election, with his media machine supporting Eric Zemmour, a far-right candidate anti-immigrant. Zemmour has campaigned to keep France firmly rooted in its Catholic heritage and has touted the Great Replacement conspiracy theory, a radicalized view that white Christians are being supplanted by Muslim immigrants from Africa and elsewhere. Although he was knocked out of the first round of elections, coming in fourth, Zemmour’s views found their way into the political conversation in France – thanks in large part to influential Bolloré media, where they were widely publicized.
Zemmour, who was a panelist on Bolloré’s CNews before running for president, said in a television interview that the billionaire “is very aware of the danger of civilization that threatens us, of the replacement of civilization. He wants to bequeath to his children and grandchildren the France that was bequeathed to him.
Although Bolloré has yet to break into the political arena outside of his home market, France – as Murdoch did in the UK and the US – the French billionaire is finding other ways to influence social discourse in Europe, Africa and elsewhere.
Much like Murdoch’s News Corp, which over the decades has brought its cultural products to more than 100 countries, Bolloré weaves together assets that can wield immense influence in the markets it serves. Since taking control of Vivendi’s struggling film and TV arm, Canal+, about six years ago, it has turned it into a Netflix-like platform and bought rivals in Europe, Africa and in Asia, which has earned it nearly 24 million subscribers in more than 40 countries – as many as Sky, the British peer founded by Murdoch and acquired by Comcast for $39 billion in 2018.
Bolloré has entered the same segments that at one time gave News Corp its media breadth, ranging from film production and distribution to television and broadcast, advertising, newspapers and magazines, books and music. Like the tendency of the Murdoch Empire to support right-wing ideologies and promote conservative ideas, there is an active tendency towards “God and country” in the media taken over by Bolloré.
As it expands into markets like Austria, Belgium, Poland and other countries in Europe, the traditionalist turn of its media in France could show what awaits its international platforms. Conservative programming has crept into the once iconoclastic Canal+ channels. In addition to far-right debates, CNews now broadcasts a live Catholic Mass during religious holidays. On C8, Canal+’s generalist channel, a controversial anti-abortion film “Unplanned” aired in prime time last year despite opposition from President Emmanuel Macron’s women’s rights minister.
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