Bemusement in France as media yawn at Jersey ‘war’

The British press has worked itself into a frenzy over the Jersey fishing row, with the words “war” and even “Nazis” appearing in headlines. But in France the media has given the issue an enormous Gallic shrug.

Nearly all London national newspapers had the latest Franco-British skirmish as their front-page top story, while not a single French national daily deemed it of sufficient interest for a cover splash.

France Info radio, the rolling news station where much of the nation gets updated on what is happening at home and abroad, did not even bother to mention the spat over post-Brexit fishing rights in a lunchtime bulletin on Thursday.

The dispute has been taken very seriously by both the French and the British governments, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson dispatching two gunboats to Jersey waters as French fishing vessels gathered there to protest over new rules on where and when they can fish.

France followed suit by sending two of its own coast patrol vessels, with the country’s Europe Minister Clement Beaune declaring: “We won’t be intimidated by these manoeuvres.”

But there was a yawning chasm between how the story was covered on either side of the Channel.

Readers of UK newspapers could be forgiven for thinking that events in the sea near the Jersey capital Saint Helier were the beginning of a full-scale war.

While British coverage thundered about “gunboats” and “war”, the French media was, typically, more restrained than its UK counterpart.

Only a handful of French reporters were sent to the area to cover the events, while one commentator on French TV noted that there were more British journalists than fishing boats at the scene.

Le Figaro, one of the main national newspapers, hid the story on its economy pages deep within its website, with a polite headline stating that France was asking Britain to reconsider the new fishing restrictions.

Le Monde’s headline was equally unemotional, stating simply that 50 French fishing boats were protesting near Saint Helier.

By early afternoon on Thursday, by which time UK media were getting all excited about a French boat ramming a UK one in Jersey waters, the tabloid Le Parisien had dropped the story from the main page of its website.

The parallels with coverage of the migrant crisis in and around the northern French port of Calais are striking.

Before the notorious “Jungle” refugee camp there was finally dismantled in 2016, the British media, in particular the tabloids, would regularly carry alarmist stories about the threat to the UK.

Readers could often have been forgiven for thinking that England was about to be overrun by migrants massing on the French coast.

French fishermen gather in a net on their vessel near the port of Saint Helier off the British island of Jersey

(AFP via Getty Images)

But in France, the Jungle and its occupants rarely made the front pages and were treated as just another long-running story of middling interest.

French media are perhaps also more used to spectacular types of demonstration and thus are less prone to getting excited about such events.

French farmers, for example, have for decades been dumping tonnes of manure or vegetables in front of town halls when they feel they are being hard done by.

And protest in France is far more regular and more violent than in the UK, as seen in the recent “yellow vest” demos during which demonstrators rampaged down the Champs Elysees in Paris, looting shops along the way.

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