Mediapart continues to hold politicians to account in the wake of its 5th anniversary

French online investigative newspaper, Mediapart, has supplied yet another example of journalism keeping politicians in check, an undertaking which risks becoming more difficult in the UK given the government’s recent proposal for press regulation.

by WAN-IFRA Staff | April 4, 2013

Although the news site is left-leaning, and has previously been accused of trying to bring down the French right-wing by exposing the Sarkozy-Bettencourt scandal, it recently proved that it can do investigative journalism without a left-leaning political agenda by exposing the ‘affaire Cahuzac’. Jérôme Cahuzac, the Socialist minister in charge of tax enforcement until last month, has himself been exposed for concealing money in bank accounts abroad for more than two decades, and has finally, thanks in part to Mediapart, been forced to confess that he is still storing €600,000 in a Singapore account.

This significant act of French investigative journalism inevitably prompts reflection that, in the UK, the new Royal Charter will make it increasingly difficult to carry out investigative journalism of this kind without encountering hefty damages and demands for amendments and apologies. Mediapart is a shining example of the independent press, working to expose injustice and to uphold democratic values “at a time of historic crises in the media and society as a whole.”

Mediapart’s rising success could encourage other news sites to follow its business model and become entirely independent – it charges for its content and survives purely on subscriptions. Today, in the wake of its 5th anniversary on 16 March 2013, the site now boasts 60,000 subscribers and has been generating a profit for the past 2 years (in 2011, it made over €500,000).

This model only suceeds due to Mediapart’s team featuring the crème de la crème of veteran French journalists including former editors of major papers such as Le Monde and Libération. It is clearly the high quality of writing and editing and the thoroughness of research behind scoops and exposures that subscribers are paying for. In an interview with FRANCE 24, Mediapart journalist Sylvain Bourmeau identifies much of Mediapart’s success in its blend of seasoned and experienced journalists with some very young and inexperienced members of staff. “The older ones learn from the younger ones about new media techniques,” explained Bourmeau. “The younger ones learn techniques of journalism. It’s an interesting experience.” It is this marriage of traditional journalistic values and methods on the one hand, and digital innovation on the other, that has successfully catapulted this start-up news site to the forefront of international journalism.

In an interview yesterday evening on France 2’s ‘Le Journal de 20 Heures’, Mediapart’s director and former editor of Le Monde, Edwy Plenel, spoke of Mediapart’s work toward the Cahuzac exposure as “great news for democracy” (interview in French) since this time around there was no accusation of libel raised against Mediapart, which is what occurred following the previous exposure of the affaire Bettencourt. He spoke of a “job well done” by the journalists involved, although he was quick to clarify that his joy was not untainted: “that which threatens to destroy democracy,” he said, “cannot please a journalist serving the Republic.” As François Bonnet, the editor of Mediapart, wrote on the site in December 2012, the site’s mission is to “[expose] injustice, corruption and the constant threats to democratic values, and to reinvigorate public debate of the key issues shaping our world,” not to follow a political agenda of exposing right wing politicians.

Aside from Mediapart, it appears that a lot more is being done to expose offshore financial secrecy. The ICIJ (International Consortium of Investigative Journalism) is just beginning to unveil the findings of a 15 month investigation entitled ‘Secrecy for Sale: Inside the Global Offshore Money Maze’. “Dozens of journalists sifted through millions of leaked records and thousands of names to produce ICIJ’s investigation into offshore secrecy.” This collaboration has been undertaken on an unprecedented scale. 86 journalists from 46 countries have sifted through a hoard of documents representing “the biggest stockpile of inside information about the offshore system ever obtained by a media organization,” with the total size of the files in gigabytes measuring more than 160 times larger the leak of U.S. State Department documents by Wikileaks in 2010. It appears that Cahuzac won’t be the only public figure caught out by investigative journalism, focussed as it currently is on this ruthless battle against financial corruption.

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