Sat Nov 18th, 2006 at 04:05:01 AM EST
Buying and reading a daily newspaper is not as common in some countries as in others. Huge numbers of dailies are sold in China and India (with populations to back that up, of course), but look at Japan: the world's three highest-circulation dailies are Japanese, with the N° 1, the Yomiuri Shimbun, selling over ten million copies daily in a country of 128 million inhabitants. That's a little more than the population of the UK and France taken together - but the British and French don't buy the press anything like on the Japanese scale.
Above all, the French don't buy daily papers. In Britain, The Sun sells 3.15 million copies a day, the Daily Mail 2.3 million. Here, in comparison, are the top circulation rankings for France:
The best-selling daily is the Parisien/Aujourd'hui at around half a million copies. To take an example from elsewhere in the world, the Arizona Republic sells rather better than that. (France, pop. 60 million, Arizona, pop. 5 million...)
What chance left-of-centre dailies against this background?
Promoted by whataboutbob
Le Monde is France's newspaper of record, traditionally centre-left, today a kind of fuzzy centre in which opportunism seems to me to play a part. L'Humanité (founded by Jean Jaurès), was for many years the official organ of the Communist Party, but got into difficulties with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the ensuing decline of the PCF. Libération (founded by Jean-Paul Sartre), combines irreverence with fairly moderate left attitudes and has a younger, hipper style than Le Monde. It can be outspoken, which Le Monde is not, and its journalism is closer to the roots. It is lively, idiosyncratic, has a special history (see next diary), and is an important voice on the French media scene.
That last point matters. Libé never succeeded in its earlier ambition of being a mass-circulation popular paper, but it did become a voice. So here's an independent, outspoken if need be, clearly left (even if not so leftie as in its early years) voice in the French national discourse.
Great. But running a national daily means high basic overheads, especially if it's done with the intention of providing serious original content. Circulation numbers like those above don't cover costs.
- L'Humanité was for many years funded by the PC, which was funded in turn by the Kremlin. When that source dried up, l'Huma became an independent paper with, at the same time, faltering circulation as the faithful (or faithless) left the Party. It has managed to survive, but with capital from two major engineering and media groups: Bouygues (public works, television, telecoms) and Lagardère (EADS, press).
- Le Monde was struggling a little over ten years ago. It has been doing better since it reorganized and recapitalised in a complex set-up including stock exchange quotation and participation at various levels of Lagardère, Bouygues, Vivendi, businessman François Pinault and his advisor Alain Minc.
- After the Mitterand years, Libé began to struggle and went through crises. Fresh capital influx was sought. In 2005, Edouard de Rothschild came in with 20 m euros.
The 20 million have gone. In June this year Rothschild obtained the departure of historic chief editor Serge July. Since then Libé has been in crisis. Despite more than fifty lay-offs, funds are lacking and the paper's accounts are under judicial supervision.
The newspaper is run by a holding company, SAIP (Société Anonyme Investissements Presse), in which the equity is held as follows:
- Edouard de Rothschild (Holding Financier Jean Goujon : HFJG) : 38,87%
- SCPL (Société civile des personnels de Libération) [all employees grouped in a company]: 18,45%
- Soparic Participations (Pathé) [Jérôme Seydoux, former main capital provider from 1996-2005] : 16,77 %
- 3i (Investors in industry) : 10,53%
- Communication et Participation (Les Amis de Libération, actionnaire historique) [Friends of Libération, historic shareholder] : 10,06%
- Suez Communication (2,53%), El Mundo (1,01%), La Libre Belgique (1,01%), Le Nouvel Observateur (0,77%)
The statutes accord 3 seats out of 15 on the board to the employees' company SCPL, which also has a right of veto on all "essential decisions concerning the newspaper's future". Freedom of the editorial line is also guaranteed by the statutes.
Former Le Monde editor Edwy Plenel came through with a plan to build the web operation (Libé was the first French newspaper to open a web site) into a subscription site, bringing in a revenue stream; he didn't convince a substantial part of the staff (the SCPL), and Edouard de Rothschild opposed it too.
Rothschild had an audit done, which came up with a scale-down plan involving big lay-offs, detailed last week at a board meeting :
- Of 280 employees, between 102 and 107 must go;
- of these, 50-55 out of 138 journalists;
- of "other editorial" staff, 16 out of 28;
- so, of total editorial staff of 166, 40%-43% would be fired.
This is obviously opposed by the staff, who would accept in all 66 job closures.
Laurent Joffrin, managing editor of the Nouvel Observateur, resigned from that job in hopes of heading Libé. This morning (17 November) he spoke to the staff in a meeting. (from Le Monde) :
|From the start, the journalist declared he was not "Edouard de Rothschild's man" <...> and he would be able to protect "the independence" of Libération. But the speech Laurent Joffrin made to the daily's employees, Thursday 17 November, was received with little enthusiasm.||D'emblée, le journaliste a affirmé qu'il n'était pas "l'homme d'Edouard de Rothschild" <...> et qu'il saurait préserver "l'indépendance" de Libération. Mais le discours qu'a tenu Laurent Joffrin aux salariés du quotidien, jeudi 16 novembre, a été accueilli avec peu d'enthousiasme.|
|The return of Mr Joffrin, who was managing editor [of Libé] from 1996 to 1999, seems for the time being to divide the editorial staff. On Monday, [Joffrin] surprised everyone by announcing just before a board meeting that he was leaving his post to bid for the top spot at Libé, an announcement some employees found "cavalier" since his name has already been linked to Edouard de Rothschild's for several months now.||Le retour de M. Joffrin, qui avait été directeur de la rédaction de 1996 à 1999, semble pour le moment diviser la rédaction. Lundi, le directeur de la rédaction du Nouvel Observateur a créé la surprise en annonçant à quelques heures du conseil d'administration qu'il démissionnait de son poste pour briguer la direction de Libération, une annonce qu'un certain nombre de salariés ont trouvé "cavalière" alors que son nom était déjà associé depuis plusieurs mois à celui d'Edouard de Rothschild.|
Joffrin too offered strong development of Internet activities, a paper "clearly on the left", a daily not a magazine, and a compromise on the number of terminations.
Edouard de Rothschild is backing this and has asked the staff to vote this afternoon (until 7 pm) on three questions:
- Are you in favour of Laurent Joffrin's arrival as managing director (CEO)?
- Do you agree with the "social plan"? (ie the lay-offs)
- Do you agree with the change of governance? (ie the end of the SCPL's right of veto)
Employees are reportedly reluctant to take part in this vote - though they are aware they have little wiggle room. The delegates who make up the SCPL have reportedly come down against the Joffrin plan. But Rothschild has the whip hand. If he gets his way, he will inject 15 million euros. If he doesn't do that, the daily will disappear.
Update [2006-11-17 16:1:46 by afew]: The vote took place and the employees voted in favour of the Joffrin/Rothschild plan
Some of the names that feature above as whole or part owners or runners of newspapers have other media interests, and are closely associated with Nicolas Sarkozy.
Martin Bouygues runs the Bouygues public works and telecommunications empire and owns the Number One French TV channel, TF1 (totally pro-Sarko). Close friend of Sarkozy.
Arnaud Lagardère owns an empire that includes a chunk of EADS and above all most of French publishing and a nice piece of American (Hachette). Close friend of Sarkozy.
Alain Minc, ultra-economic-liberal pundit and consultant, close friend of Sarkozy.
Edouard de Rothschild downplays it, but is a friend of Sarkozy.
Sarkozy is certainly highly media-conscious and misses no opportunity to appear on TV, using his position as government N° 2 to get himself invited to TV news, or organising photo-ops and inviting TV and press. I think it's fair to say no French politician has done anything like as much of this in the past. And there are voices that insinuate, or say outright, that Sarkozy is using his influence and that of his friends to muzzle the press of the centre and the left - in view, of course, of the presidential campaign, and of the ten to fifteen years he can hope to have at the Elysée after that.
Laurent Joffrin is unimpeachably on the left and cannot be suspected of working for Sarkozy. Still and all, what Rothschild wants will weaken Libé's capacity to do investigative journalism or good, hard-hitting files, because the editorial staff will be spread too thin. And, above all, Rothschild wants to put an end to what's left of an historic experiment in workers' control, by removing the right of veto of the employees on decisions affecting the paper's future.
This situation has moved politicians on the left to wake up and start talking about how to support Libé and, in general, guarantee a plural press in a context where the same big business money with the same right-wing and ultra-liberal references is taking over the entire show. PS leaders of the Assembly and Senate have spoken of the need to support Libération.
But who has the fifteen million euros?
PART TWO will be an overview of the history of Libération from 1973