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December 09, 2004

UPDATE: THE CRISIS AT LE MONDE--THE PAPER'S "NEW" EDITOR IS AN OLD FACE

After the forced resignation of Edwy Plenel as editor of Le Monde, the name of the paper's new editor was a surprise to most people in the news business in Paris. My telephone rang this morning with a call from France: it was my friend Claude Angeli, veteran editor-in-chief of the investigative/satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine, who told me that it is Le Monde's empire-building CEO, Jean-Marie Colombani, who has decided to take the reigns of the editorial side into his own hands. The news broke in Paris this morning.

Colombani was Le Monde's former chief political reporter before he staged the coup that brought him to control over the entire paper  decade ago. He's been away from the newsroom for a decade, as he used his power as the paper's CEO (or directeur, the equivalent title in French publishing) to become a mini-Murdoch, gobbling up a host of regional daily papers and specialized weeklies to make the Le Monde group France's third-largest press conglomerate.

The question is, can Colombani--in making himself Plenel's replacement--reverse the paper's declining fortunes? Much of the newsroom, and many of the paper's different editorial departments, are dominated by Plenel loyalists (a number of them ex-Trots like Plenel). Moreover, there's a lot of hostility to, and anger at, Colombani in the newsroom among the old-school Le Monde journalists--who didn't like the hype and recklessness of Plenel's tabloidy style--not only for Colombani's failure to control Plenel's go-go journalism, but for putting the paper's finances in such a sorry state with his acquisition-mania.

Colombani--whose politics (such as they are) were more or less Christian Democrat--was primarily notorious for his ass-kissing rapport with the governing classes when he was a journalist. It's not clear if he has either the gumption or the vision for a wholesale revamping of the paper's editorial line as developed under Plenel. The announced goal of Colombani is to make the paper once again France's (and Europe's) "newspaper of reference," with an end to the sensationalist coverage that characterized the Plenel decade. Can Colombani do this in such a way as to bring back the tens of thousands of lost readers who deserted the paper in disgust?

Colombani will be backed up by a gaggle of new senior editors, including Patrice Jarreau (now the paper's Washington, D.C., correspondent) and literary editor Josyanne Savigneau (noted for the copinage--or "I'll-scratch-your-back-you-scratch-mine" modus operandi--which has reigned in the paper's highly compromised book section under her rule. 

The recapitalization of the hugely debt-ridden Le Monde which Colombani has been trying to engineer with his partner-in-crime, the newspaper's board chairman (and right-wing capitalist propagandist) Alain Minc, appears to have found its rescuer: the multinational media giant Hachette. There are many at the paper who are frightened at the arrival of this 800-lb. gorilla as its dominant financial partner. After all, it will mean that the last "independent" national daily in France has lost its independence.

The conservative daily Le Figaro was recently bought by military-industrial complex giant Serge Dassault, who is also a Senator from Jacques Chirac's conservative UMP party. (At the same time, buying the holding company SocPresse also gave Dassault control of the newsweekly L'Express). And the other of the three national dailies, Liberation--the yuppies' favorite paper because of its extensive cultural coverage--which has also been suffering losses and a financial crisis, has just accepted as its dominant partner Baron Edouard de Rothschild. (This is an ironic end to the independence of Liberation, which was originally founded by a gaggle of ex-Maoists from the May 1968 student/worker rebellion in France--although they, led by the paper's permanent directeur, Serge July, have all long since aggressively embraced free-market economics, and the paper was purged of its remaining radicals in the 1980s after a sharp right turn in its editorial line engineered by Serge July).

So, with the arrival of Hachette at Le Monde, all three of France's national dailies are now under the thumb of conglomerates which have little in common with probing journalism--except their desire to suppress it.

(For the background on all this, see my earlier long takeout on "The Crisis at Le Monde: The Inside Story").

DEPT. OF MUST READING:

Don't miss a first-rate piece of reporting by Ben Ehrenreich in this week's L.A. Weekly, "The Sex Files: When You Find Yourself In One And Can't Get Out." It's a stomach-turning story of aging gay men who are being forced to register as sex offenders--and have their names spread as such all over the Internet--because, back in the bad old days when gay sex was illegal, they were once arrested for crimes they didn't commit or for behavior that has long since been decriminalized.

Posted by Direland at 02:40 PM | Permalink

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Comments

Friend with Claude Angeli? Nice. As all the French papers lose their independance (it's the first step...), at least there still is the Canard and Charlie Hebdo, even if they are on the margins.

Posted by: Matthew | Dec 13, 2004 9:16:35 AM

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