Sarkozy chum TF1 posting draws protest


French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Thursday was accused of wielding political power over the media after his former deputy campaign director was given a senior management post at broadcast powerhouse TF1.

Laurent Solly, 36, who has been a close adviser to Sarkozy for several years, is understood to be joining the network's management in an as-yet undefined role in the coming months.

TF1 is arguably the most powerful broadcaster in Western Europe, given that it garners up to a 50% audience share for its evening news bulletins and has an overall market share of more than 30%.

The appointment sparked outrage from the left-wing opposition and journalist unions. The Socialist Party and the Communist Party accused Sarkozy of "collusion" with the powerful media groups including the construction and mobile phone giant Bouygues, which owns a controlling stake in TF1. Group chairman Martin Bouygues is a close friend and godfather to Sarkozy's son.

"We are really in the Berlusconi method, and this collusion of major media groups and political power is completely indecent," said Faouzi Lamdaoui, national secretary for equality of the Socialist Party, an allusion to former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's stranglehold over the media in that country.

Communist spokesman Olivier Dartignolles said the new presidency's objective "is to anesthetize public opinion by controlling the main news channels."

The National Union of Journalists (SNJ) said Solly's appointment is "extremely shocking," suggesting that it would undermine trust between citizens and TF1.

Former corruption-busting ma-gistrate Eva Joly also likened the appointment to a Berlusconi ma-neuver. "A democracy is measured by its independent media and justice system, and I think what we're seeing in France is rather worrying," she told French radio.

Bizarrely, Solly's appointment was announced in the pages of a French newspaper by a member of Sarkozy's staff at the Elysee, not by TF1. Bouygues issued a statement to confirm his arrival but declined further comment.

The row comes at a time when relationships between the news media and politicians are under close scrutiny in France. Two Gallic television journalists stepped down this week from their respective jobs after their partners were named in Sarkozy's new government.

Christine Ockrent, the grande dame of French political journalism, is to drop her weekly political show "France Europe Express" on pubcaster France 3 after her partner Bernard Kouchner was named foreign minister. And Beatrice Schonberg will not resume news anchor duties on France 2 since her husband Jean-Louis Borloo has been made economy minister.

Both women are expected to move on to nonpolitical shows with their respective broadcasters.

Schonberg was one of two female news presenters forced to suspend their jobs during the recent presidential campaigns because they were married to potential ministerial candidates.

Journalist unions have also raised eyebrows at the appointment of several senior print media journalists to advisory roles within government in the wake of Sarkozy's election.