French public TV cancels Joan of Arc film over conservative journalist’s involvement
May 3, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) — The French public regional TV network “France 3” has canceled a 52-minute show on the occasion of the famed “Fêtes johanniques” of Orléans that was scheduled for May 8, the day of the 592nd anniversary of the Deliverance of Orleans by Saint Joan of Arc in 1429. The public television station has confirmed that the reason for this act is based on the fact that the journalist doing voice-overs for the show, Charlotte d’Ornellas, is a conservative.
When the local director of France 3 saw her name among the credits of the production, he decided to stop the project because she writes for a conservative weekly magazine, Valeurs actuelles.
Charlotte d’Ornellas also frequently joins talk shows on C-News, the only mainstream commercial TV news station that regularly provides a forum for “dissident” conservative voices regarding politics, religion, or the COVID-19 crisis.
In the left-wing weekly Marianne, journalist David Desgouilles commented that this was the first anyone had heard of a “voice-over contaminating a television audience.” He added, “Joan of Arc heard voices. The Regional Director does not want to hear the voice of Charlotte d’Ornellas.”
The idea of the show was to offer the inhabitants of the Centre-Val de Loire region, and in particular those of Orleans, a chance to remain connected with the centuries-old tradition of commemorating the most spectacular victory of Jeanne d’Arc over the English 592 years ago, when she lifted the Siege of Orleans and was welcomed into the town by the grateful inhabitants both as a messenger of God and a military hero. It was in fact Joan of Arc herself who initiated the tradition of a procession of thanksgiving.
Normally these festivities last for 10 days, starting on April 29, and involve religious ceremonies, commemorative events, and colorful processions recalling the life and heroic deeds of Joan. Since 1945, each year, a young girl is chosen by a special committee to play the role of Saint Joan: she must have lived in Orleans for at least ten years, and be studying in a high school in that town. She must also be Catholic and have received “the sacraments of Christian initiation” (and in fact be a practicing Catholic), and be an active member of an association that serves others.
When a young girls’ candidacy is accepted, a lengthy preparation for the role begins, including horsemanship and wearing armor. For a year, the chosen one may keep the symbolic Sword of Saint Joan in her home. The role also has a spiritual dimension.
The event has only been canceled about 30 times since 1429. These interruptions included the Wars of Religion, the years following the beginning of the French Revolution in 1789 (when the festivities were prohibited), the murder of French President Paul Doumer in 1932 and COVID-19 last year. The “Fêtes johanniques” even took place during the two World Wars, albeit in a more discreet manner. For the first time in the history of Orleans, last year, festivities were officially “postponed” because France was not yet out of its first lockdown.
Because of ongoing COVID restrictions, large public events, particularly the traditional May 8 parade, have been modified and adapted this year: The chosen “Joan” will be transported by car from one location to the other and only a very limited number of people will be allowed to attend. This was the reason why the local authorities, including the mayor of Orleans, Serge Grouard, decided to commission the special TV show that would allow the local inhabitants to follow the events on screen.
Charlotte d’Ornellas was a natural choice to do the voice-over of some of the shots: She herself was the chosen Joan of Arc in 2002, an experience which she has said left a profound mark on her.
The documentary that was to have been broadcast on May 8 on public television was entirely paid for by the city of Orleans with a budget of €25,000 ($30,000) and produced by a private company. The program was to have been delivered to France 3 Centre-Val de Loire ready for broadcasting.
Last Tuesday, the local director of France 3, Jean-Jacques Basier, sent an email to the Town Hall of Orleans announcing that the broadcast would not take place. The news was probably leaked out to the satirical weekly Le Canard enchaîné that made the move known the next day, sparking outrage in right-wing and conservative circles.
Basier fought back, stating, “I would have liked the city to use the conditional tense when presenting the program. We had made a letter of intent, it is true, but it was not a contract. It was clear from the start that if this show did not suit us, we would not broadcast it. When I learned, on Monday, that the voice-over for this program would be done by a journalist from Valeurs actuelles, I was swept off my feet. As we’re talking about a program broadcast on a public channel, all this is very complicated.”
Journalists hailing from every quarter of the political spectrum — provided they are liberal — obviously have no such problems when commenting on events or joining TV productions.
Basier also complained about the public TV time being offered to the mayor of Orleans, Serge Grouard, in a show paid for by the town, arguing that upcoming regional elections should have prevented France 3 from offering this platform to a political figure. The official campaign will only commence on May 10.
For many years, the “Fêtes johanniques” have been a bone of contention in secularist quarters because the obviously religious character: The feast attracts public political figures (Emmanuel Macron joined as minister for the economy in 2016, one year before his election as president of the republic) and local and regional dignitaries who are supposed to respect the principle of “laïcité”: secularism.
But all in all, the traditional character of the event and its meaning for Orleans leaves that debate in the background.
This time around, the problem clearly lies in the fact that an attractive young woman with a great sense of repartee was to have once again, in a way, carried the colors of Joan. Charlotte d’Ornellas is “too right-wing,” “too Catholic,” too politically incorrect.
The fact that public television, which is financed by the French taxpayer, should reject someone because of his or her political or religious convictions, and that it should cater to all French citizens, a sizeable portion of whom appreciate d’Ornellas or share at least some of her ideas, does not appear to have struck the censors as proof of their own sectarianism.