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2004/12/17

"Independent Since Its Inception"

In the context of its 60th anniversary commemoration, which Le Monde has been celebrating with 60 articles, one for each year and one per day for the past two months, the newspaper of reference has published an article on the birth of the independent daily.

The 60th Anniversary Celebration of Le Monde

What is hard to understand is why the International Herald Tribune's John Vinocur would evoke "the newspaper's close relationship with" the French Foreign Ministry and why John Keegan would call it the "organ of official opinion and of the ruling class", when it is a well-known fact that the daily's motto is: "Indépendant depuis sa création".

Especially when two members of the French media (who happen to be Le Monde's partners), RTL and Arte, featured broadcasts on the anniversary, called respectively Birth of a Free Newspaper and A Free Press.

Ah, well… let's take a look at Le Monde's version of the circumstances of its own birth. We are in late 1944, Paris has been liberated, the war is not yet over, and… a vow is made…

"I will present the full information. I will force them to read me!" That vow is made by the first director of Le Monde
So far, so good. Hubert Beuve-Méry sounds exceedingly forceful and independent. But wait a minute; let us read the rest of the sentence:
That vow is made by the first director of Le Monde as he is given the mission to create a newspaper of reference worthy to represent France abroad.
Huh? "Is given"? "The mission"? "To create" not a newspaper but "a newspaper of reference"? "Worthy" not to bring the news but "to represent France abroad"? What's going on here?! Keep reading Laurent Greilsamer's article:
The adventure starts as early as September 1944. For several days, General de Gaulle, the head of the provisional government, has been grumbling as he scans the main titles of the Parisian press. He finds satisfying neither Le Figaro nor Combat and still less L'Humanité. In his deepest self, he misses the great pre-war titles, such as Les Débats or Le Temps.

At the end of September, he convokes this information minister, Pierre-Henri Teitgen, and [gives the following order]: "Teitgen, make another Temps for me! Choose a director whose past in the resistance and competence as a journalist cannot be put into doubt. Get a free-market Protestant and a Gaullist as his deputies!"

When Teitgen tries to stall, arguing that there are paper shortages and that with 30 Paris dailies, there is no assurances that the French can be made to read the paper, de Gaulle interrupts him:
"The French readership, Teitgen, je m'en fiche! We need a great newspaper for the extérieur, and for decades, [our] embassies have held, rightly or wrongly, that a daily on that model, more or less semi-official, better informed than the others, provides better information on what is happening in France. Allez, et faites vite!"

Two months later, c'est fait. Or almost. Teitgen and his team have dug up the rare bird. His name is Hubert Beuve-Méry. … De Gaulle anoints him. He is given the title of manager and the authorization to publish, and he is given two deputies, René Courtin (the free-market Protestant) and Christian Funck-Brentano (the Gaullist). In early December, Beuve-Méry takes possession of the Temps' former offices and printing works, rue des Italiens in Paris.

It is there that he makes
his famous vow: "I will present the full information. I will force them to read me!" That is the challenge!
And thus, the article ends, full of reminiscing and nostalgia, with noone at Le Monde (apparently), either today or at the time, stopping to think whether a daily's independence might be compromised by such circumstances and such relations with the powers that be.

If need be, the influence of France's top political player is confirmed by Doreen Carvajal in the International Herald Tribune on November 30:

Le Monde was founded in 1944 by Hubert Beuve-Méry at the request of General Charles de Gaulle, on the condition that Beuve-Méry could create an independent evening paper that could be the "conscience of the nation."
On October 21, a Paris reader (Patrice Dunoyer de Segonzac) brought complementary information about Hubert Beuve-Méry in a letter to the editor:
One can only rejoice at this [60th anniversary] celebration of the greatest hours of the newspaper and of he who created it, then developed it day by day, with the rigor, the honesty, the scrupulous independence that he was known for, as much with regards to the political power as to the power of finance.
The reader, who is related to the founder of the Uriage National College of Executives, goes on to say that
… it is the ties created at Uriage which will contribute to the creation of Le Monde, since it is resistants like Paul Reuter, professor of law and deputy director of Pierre-Henry Teitgen, who will suggest to General de Gaulle the designation of Beuve-Méry whom they had known at the École nationale de cadres d'Uriage.
But excuse me while I digress. I still don't understand why John Vinocur would evoke "the newspaper's close relationship with" the French Foreign Ministry and why John Keegan would call it the "organ of official opinion and of the ruling class", when, as Patrice Dunoyer de Segonzac says, Le Monde was/is known for its "scrupulous independence … as much with regards to the political power as to the power of finance," and when it is a well-known fact that the "free newspaper's" motto is: "Independent since its inception".

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