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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 April, 2004, 10:41 GMT 11:41 UK
The press in France
french press graphic

In comparison with a number of other European nations, the French are not especially avid newspaper readers.

The figure for newspaper readership - 164 adults out of every 1,000 - places France behind most other Western European countries apart from Italy, Spain and Portugal.

The French press was in its healthiest state in the immediate aftermath of World War II. A year after the end of the war, 28 titles had a combined circulation of six million, but only seven years later these figures had practically halved.

The greater popularity of the broadcast media and the consequent diversion of advertising revenues were the main factors in the inexorable decline of the printed media. In recent years, the rise of free papers has dealt a further blow to the paid-for press.

The regional press remained relatively unaffected by these developments, with many people in the provinces remaining faithful to their local paper. One regional paper, Ouest-France, sells almost twice as many copies as any of the national dailies.

Despite the decline in the press, French newspaper readers are still reasonably well catered for, with about 80 daily titles and a wide range of weeklies to choose from, many of which also have lively internet sites.

One way in which French papers differ markedly from their British counterparts is their apparent deference to those in power. With the exception of satirical journals such as Le Canard Enchaine, the press seems reluctant to expose corruption in high places - a situation that has led to charges of complicity between journalists and politicians.

Recent revelations of cosying up to officialdom may have tarnished the journalistic profession somewhat in the eyes of the French public, but it still seems unlikely that the same public would appreciate the scandalmongering so beloved of the British tabloid press.

Main dailies

Le Figaro

Based: Paris
Founded: 1826
Circulation: 352,700
Owner: Socpresse (since March 2004 80% owned by the aeronautics group Dassault)

Le Figaro began life as a gossip sheet on the arts - it was named after the main character in Beaumarchais' The Barber of Seville - but by the outbreak of World War II had become France's leading daily paper. After World War II it became the voice of the French upper middle class and today still caters for a conservative readership. It was the last of the major French dailies to launch an online edition.


Based: Paris
Founded: 1904
Circulation: 48,200
Owner: The French Communist Party owns a 40% stake in the paper; most of the remaining shares are held by staff, readers and "friends" of the paper.

The only major daily to act as the organ of a political party, L'Humanite was founded by Jean Jaures as a socialist paper in 1904, and became the mouthpiece of the French Communist Party in 1920. Banned during World War II, L'Humanite continued to publish clandestinely until just before the Liberation of Paris. Now over 100 years old, it continues to bear the slogan "In an ideal world, L'Humanite would not exist."


Based: Paris
Founded: 1973
Circulation: 158,100
Owner: Staff and "friends" of the paper have a 50% holding; most of the remaining shares are held by Pathe and the British group Investors in Industry.

Launched in 1973 by Jean-Paul Sartre and a group of like-minded left-wing intellectuals, Liberation was aimed at the "1968 generation" - those who felt frustrated by the slow pace of social change in France and wanted a paper with an alternative outlook. The paper was initially run along non-hierarchical lines, with all staff - from the editor to the cleaner - receiving exactly the same salary, but this later gave way to a more conventional set-up. In the early 1980s it began to take advertisements and allowed external bodies to have a stake in its financing, but continued to maintain a left-of-centre editorial stance. "Libe" underwent a redesign in October 2003 to mark the 30th anniversary of its founding.

Le Monde

Based: Paris
Founded: 1944
Circulation: 389,200
Owner: Le Monde

As soon as the German army left Paris in 1944, the distinguished journalist Hubert Beuve-Mery founded Le Monde at the request of Gen Charles de Gaulle - on condition that he be allowed complete editorial independence. Under his editorship, which lasted until 1969, Le Monde became the French paper of record and was widely respected, both at home and abroad. It continued to maintain its independent outlook and has on occasions been highly critical of the government of the day. It underwent a redesign in 2002 in an effort to boost its circulation and attract younger readers.


Based: Rennes
Founded: 1944
Circulation: 762,400
Owner: Association pour le soutien des principes de la democratie humaniste [Non-profit making group]

The Rennes-based Ouest-France sells more copies than any other French daily paper, and has been relatively unaffected by the decline in circulation that has bedevilled the national press over the last half-century. Strongly pro-European from the very beginning, the paper has also benefited from the attachment to one's native region that characterises "la France profonde".

Influential weeklies

Le Canard Enchaine

Based: Paris
Founded: 1915
Circulation: 446,000
Owner: Les Editions Marechal/Le Canard Enchaine

A satirical and investigative magazine, similar to Private Eye in Britain. Notable campaigns conducted by the weekly in recent years include its efforts to uncover the Nazi past of former Paris chief of police Maurice Papon and to bring to light evidence of alleged corruption during President Jacques Chirac's tenure as mayor of Paris.


Based: Paris
Founded: 1953
Circulation: 542,900
Owner: Socpresse (80% owned by Dassault)

L'Express, France's first weekly news magazine, was modelled on the American magazine Time. Its first editor was Francoise Giroud, who had earlier edited Elle and went on to become France's first Minister of Women's Affairs in 1974 and Minister of Culture in 1976. The magazine has a right-of-centre orientation.

Le Nouvel Observateur

Based: Paris
Founded: 1964
Circulation: 538,200
Owner: Le Nouvel Observateur

The left-of-centre Nouvel Observateur is particularly strong in its coverage of political and literary matters and has been described as "the French intellectuals' parish magazine". It is noted for its in-depth treatment of the main issues of the day.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

Country profile: France
24 Mar 04  |  Country profiles


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