Senator Dassault’s newspaper woes

 - December 17, 2007, 9:36 AM

Serge Dassault, 79-year-old patriarch of leading business and military aircraft manufacturer Dassault Aviation, at last has realized his dream of becoming a French lawmaker following his election to the French Senate at the end of September. Meanwhile, his newly acquired daily newspaper is already causing him a headache.

In 2002 Dassault, mayor of the Paris suburb of Corbeil-Essonne, lost his bid for election as a deputy (congressman) to the National Assembly. His father, Marcel, the legendary founder of Dassault Aviation, was a deputy and his son Olivier is currently a National Assembly member. Now Serge Dassault is one of the five senators representing Essonne, one of France’s 95 departments, or national districts. Elected under proportional representation by Essonne’s local and regional councilors and deputies, Dassault will represent the conservative UMP party, the party of President Chirac, for a six-year term.

Meanwhile, journalists at the Le Figaro daily newspaper, which generally backs President Chirac, have criticized Dassault. The newspaper came under Dassault’s wing this year after he increased his 30-percent stake to an 82-percent shareholding in Socpresse, a publishing house that owns about 70 titles, including 15 regional newspapers, the prestigious L’Express news magazine and numerous weekly publications.

For years Dassault hoped to own a newspaper that expresses his views. But in a secret ballot in September, 93 percent of Le Figaro’s Society of Journalists, a non-union body, expressed alarm at Dassault’s intervention in editorial content and at remarks the aircraft tycoon made that they said “compromise the principle of editorial independence” of the paper.