Know why French newspaper Le Monde refused to run an interview of Narendra Modi. Know the history of the newspaper along with its controversies

“You can’t judge the ability of fish if you ask it to climb a tree.” Its a well known adage.

It’s not a great secret that our beloved Prime Minister Narendra Modi had never been known as a good communicator in face of barrage of unexpected and solid questions. Time and again it had been revealed, and nation is already exposed to this flip side.

narendra modi in france Narendra Modi vs Le Monde

The fiasco of Karan Thapar’s last journalistic encounter with the Prime Minister had left an indelible mark upon the psyche of nation and would go down as a point of reference for media connoisseurs and books of journalism for future generations. That was a sad scenario when the interview was snapped abruptly.

It might be that our PM considers the interviewers as biased and non-constructive rather negative – a sheer waste of time. Nevertheless, he had a point when he decided to break which is routinely proved by the immature diatribes of insecure and over-enthusiastic field media-men or stupid anchors while on their beats. True, often nothing useful comes out of these cacophonies that we watch on idiot-box these days. There is no honest effort to argue decently these days.

Knowledge and patience are  no longer the virtues of debate and the skewed priorities of media houses reflect unabashedly. For audience there is nothing to carry home out of it except extra decibel noise and plethora of devoid-of-manners participants. The real culprit is anchor who encourages and allows the nonsense to carry one.

The latest episode of Le Monde that is flashing the media world over is a PR disaster in simple journalistic jargon. According to ‘Le Monde’s’ South Asia correspondent Julien Bouissou “Le Monde refused to run an interview of Narendra Modi after we were told to publish written answers, not to interact with him.”  

On the Indian side, this kind of situation was an exceptional one and not quite a very qualified desirable development. The mandarins of Foreign Office should have anticipated about that. However, after the refusal, the PMO reportedly negotiated an email interview with another French newspaper ‘Le Figaro.’ But the damage was already done.

Le Monde is a newspaper with a subtle difference from the other newspaper around the world. It focuses more on analysis and opinion of events and development. The Latest ‘News’ is the secondary product for them. The paper considers it less important for the paper to cover “all the news that’s fit to print” but it offers the thoughtful interpretation of current events.

According to the well known ‘Mitrokhin Archive’ investigators ‘Le Monde’ had a checkered past. It was believed that Le Monde was the key outlet for Soviet Secret Service – KGB and a tool to spread anti-American and pro-Soviet disinformation. The archive had identified two senior Le Monde journalists and several contributors who were used in the operations.

In their 2003 book titled La Face cachée du Monde (The Hidden face of “Le Monde”), authors Pierre Pean and Philippe Cohen alleged that Colombani and then-editor Edwy Plenel had shown partisan bias and had engaged in financial dealings that compromised the paper’s independence. Le Monde had also been found guilty of defamation for saying that Spanish football club FC Barcelona was connected to a doctor involved in steroid use. The Spanish court fined the newspaper nearly $450,000.

Le Monde cover editorial 001 Narendra Modi vs Le Monde

However, Le Monde is also known to be an intrepid crusader for integrity and truth. It has unearthed several corruption scandals in past and had damaged the authority of powerful individuals of French politics. The most notable corruption scandal netted Jacques Chirac, the ex-President and the infamous ‘Irishmen of Vincennes’ affair. This affair is also known as the Vincennes Three. It was a major political scandal which occurred in France during the presidency of François Mitterrand.

Following a 1982 terrorist attack in Paris, a secret police anti-terrorist cell established by Mitterrand arrested three Irish nationals in Vincennes. Proudly proclaimed as a victory against ‘international terrorism’, the case fell apart and the suspects were exonerated when it was revealed that weapons and other evidence used against the three had been planted by the arresting officers, who then lied to the courts with the support of the executive.

 Another exposure done by Le Monde is related to the 10th anniversary of the sinking of the Greenpeace boat ‘Rainbow Warrior. The newspaper had directly implicated President Francois Mitterrand for the act. French are known to be logical human beings to the hilt and the paper is often caught in the theoretical controversy and confusion between fact and opinion.

Geneal Charles de Gaulle was the spirit for the foundation of Le Monde 1944 after the Germans were was driven from Paris.

Looking at the hindsight of the latest controversy, some pre-programming and anticipation is must if this practice of question and answers is going to be a norm in future. The wiser council is expected to prevail in the foreign office to avoid such ugly situations in future. It  brings no laurels to anyone – neither the visitor nor the host !

By: Naim Naqvi

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