Far-right journalist quits French TV show amid election rumours

The French far-right journalist and commentator Éric Zemmour has stepped down from his nightly TV show, heightening speculation that he could make an outsider bid to run in next year’s French presidential election.

The 63-year-old, who was a political journalist for Le Figaro, holds convictions for inciting hatred and is best known for his TV diatribes against immigration and Islam.

After posters saying “Zemmour president” went up in parts of Paris earlier this summer, his supporters have been reported to be raising funds for a potential campaign. Zemmour begins a book tour this week on which he will meet fans at large venues and walkabouts, although he has yet to announce a bid for the presidency.

The French CSA media regulator has decided to class Zemmour as a politician rather than a journalist. This meant that on Monday, the rolling news TV channel CNews had little choice but to temporarily halt Zemmour’s popular nightly appearances. French law states that there must be an even balance in airtime between political candidates and parties.

Described by critics as making the far-right, anti-immigration Marine Le Pen look soft, Zemmour has been attacked by rights groups, who say he incites racial hatred. He has been called a “prophet of pessimism” and a “salesman of the apocalypse” and his finger-jabbing oration is peppered with historical references to Napoleon and Joan of Arc.

Over the past decade, Zemmour has consistently topped bestseller lists with books warning that France will “disappear” or become an “Islamic republic” within a century if it does not crack down on immigration. In his new book out this week, he draws a parallel between himself and Donald Trump – as a TV personality taking on the political class.

While polls currently suggest that the centrist president Emmanuel Macron and the far-right Marine Le Pen could reach the final round of the presidential race in April 2022, key parties have not yet decided on candidates and the race is impossible to predict.

In TV appearances this weekend, Zemmour said he was mulling over whether to run for president, “because I think France is in an absolutely lamentable state and the France that I love is disappearing”.

Zemmour, the Paris-born son of Jewish Berbers who emigrated from Algeria in the 1950s, said he would ban families from giving children non-French first names. This meant people could no longer call their sons Mohammed “but could use it as a middle name”.

The French musician Jean-Michel Jarre, seated at a chat-show table with Zemmour on Saturday night, criticised the suggested law on first names, saying it would be wrong and ridiculous. Jarre cited the UK as a positive example of a European country where many children were called Mohammed. Zemmour shot back that the UK’s vote for Brexit had shown how working-class British people “can’t stand immigration”.

Zemmour also said the multi-racial Seine-Saint-Denis area north of Paris was “no longer France” and had so many people of Arab and African descent that it is “another continent”.

The Socialist party head of the Seine-Saint-Denis département issued a statement on Zemmour saying: “His only project is to divide French people and fracture society.”

Zemmour is is currently polling at 7%-8%, too low to make the second round. But he has risen from 5%, and is seen as eating into scores for both Le Pen and Nicolas Sarkozy’s traditional rightwing party, while setting the tone for a divisive presidential debate on immigration and identity.

Zemmour’s convictions include a 2010 sentence for incitement to racial hatred after telling a TV chatshow that drug dealers were mostly “blacks and Arabs”. Last week, he successfully overturned on appeal a conviction for incitement to hatred over a speech about Islam and immigration that he made in Paris in 2019. A separate hate trial related to remarks he made about unaccompanied child migrants on TV last September has been postponed.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the leftist presidential candidate, said Zemmour was succeeding in “contaminating” public debate and making the far-right Le Pen look “almost innocent – which she will never be”.

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