TV executive sacked for voicing concerns to politician

Sat, May 9, 2009, 01:00

NO ONE accuses French president Nicolas Sarkozy of having been involved in the sacking of Jérôme Bourreau-Guggenheim.

But the affair has become a cause célèbre, and was the subject of a heated exchange in the National Assembly late on Thursday. It has again laid bare the Big Brother tactics of Mr Sarkozy's underlings, and the incestuous relationship between his government and TF1, France's leading, privately owned television station.

Mr Bourreau (31) had been in charge of innovation at TF1's website since last July. In February, he wrote to Francoise de Panafieu, the right-wing deputy from the district where he lives, to express reservations about the new French law against internet piracy. The law is known by the acronym "Hadopi" because it establishes a high authority to police the internet.

It was voted by the National Assembly on May 6th, and will pass in the Senate next week.

In the e-mail he sent to Mr Panafieu, Mr Bourreau said he agreed on the need to fight internet piracy, but opposed repressive measures foreseen by the law, which include cutting access to those who illegally download music or films, then forcing the subscriber to continue monthly payments.

On May 6th, the European Parliament voted against an amendment banning suspension of internet access by a high authority without a court decision.

Mr Bourreau sent the e-mail from his G-mail address, not from his professional TF1 address. However, he mentioned that he knew the subject well because of his position at TF1. He was "counting on discernment" to "make voice heard".

Mr Panafieu's office forwarded the e-mail to the minister of culture, Christine Albanel, who had written the draft law. Mail to one's deputy is not considered confidential unless specifically requested, Mr Panafieu said in the National Assembly.

She found Mr Bourreau's message "very well-written" and "suggested it might be used to develop counter arguments for deputies in the UMP group". The ministry of culture contacted TF1. On April 16th, Mr Bourreau received a letter saying he was being fired "for profound divergence with strategy". The letter explicitly noted Mr Bourreau's e-mail to Mr Panafieu "came to us via the cabinet of the minister of culture".

Mr Bourreau revealed the story of his sacking to Libération newspaper this week. His lawyer says he is appealing to the labour relations tribunal and the anti-discrimination authority HALDE because "under the labour code, an employee cannot be discriminated against because of his political opinions". TF1 said on Thursday night that it supported the law and was forced by Mr Bourreau's "particularly radical position" to let him go.

TF1's owner, the construction billionaire Martin Bouygues, is godfather to Mr Sarkozy's youngest son, Louis. Mr Bouygues suggested to Mr Sarkozy that he ought to ban advertising on TF1's rival stations in the public sector, which was done in January. Laurent Solly, who was deputy director of Mr Sarkozy's presidential campaign, is now number two at TF1. Last year, TF1 sacked Patrick Poivre d'Arvor, the station's star presenter for the previous 21 years. Poivre had angered Mr Sarkozy by saying he "acted like a little boy" at a G8 summit. He was replaced by Laurence Ferrari. Mr Sarkozy reportedly told Mr Bouygues he wanted to see the young blonde on the news.