French Communist daily celebrates 100 years

16th April 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 16 (AFP) - France's Communist newspaper l'Humanite celebrates its 100th anniversary Sunday, but festivities marking its entry into the club of the world's press doyens are to be dimmed by the realisation that its glory days are over.

PARIS, April 16 (AFP) - France's Communist newspaper l'Humanite celebrates its 100th anniversary Sunday, but festivities marking its entry into the club of the world's press doyens are to be dimmed by the realisation that its glory days are over.

Its overtly political bent has proved something of a handicap in a world now dominated by media that eschews overt bias and driven by concern of profits.

The changing tastes of readers, the worldwide consolidation of media groups, the advent of the Internet and chronic financial problems have all conspired to bring L'Humanite down to the rung of the least-sold of France's major dailies, with a circulation of just 48,000.

Worse, it has since 2001 had to swallow the indignity of owing its survival in part to the largesse of capitalistic French companies such as publisher Hachette and commercial television broadcaster TF1, which have become shareholders.

Its finances this year are heading towards a EUR 1.7 million (USD 2 million) loss on revenue of EUR 25 million.

It was not always thus, however.

After a struggle in its first years after being founded in 1904 by Jean Jaures, the pacifist socialist who was assassinated in a Paris cafe on the eve of World War I, the paper was taken over in 1920 by the French Communist Party and, three years later, it became the party's official organ.

In a France largely sympathetic to the 1917 Russian revolution - in no small part because of its own revolutionary history - the Communist newspaper found its place, and by 1937 it had become the fourth biggest-selling title in France with a circulation of 347,000.

It was a sharply ideological counterweight to the other titles born around the same time including the right-wing Le Figaro and the Christian publication La Croix.

But the Hitler-Stalin pact at the outbreak of World War II prompted France's government to ban its publication.

Undaunted, it continued to print clandestinely and during the German occupation several figures in the French resistance - itself comprised of many Communist sympathisers - wrote articles.

At the end of the war, it returned to newsstands and to a stronger position than ever, largely thanks to the Communist Party rising to become the biggest party in France.

Nearly 529,000 copies were sold in 1946 and, with the Cold War emerging, it gave glowing coverage to the Communist wave sweeping other countries. Stalin, when he died in 1953, was described as "the chief, the friend, the brother of all workers".

Major names, including Chilian poet Pablo Neruda and Spanish artist Pablo Picasso contributed to the newspaper. Communist leaders around the world, such as Cuba's Fidel Casto and Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh, wrote pieces.

But then, as the world divided into the West and the East, L'Humanite's fortunes gradually dimmed along with the party's. By 1985, its circulation had dropped to 100,000. In 1994, the French Communist Party said the newspaper was no longer its official gazette.

By 2000, after the end of the Soviet Union and after the fall of the Berlin wall, circulation had dropped to around its current level.

The decline echoed that of other party mouthpieces, notably Russia's Pravda which now exists as little more than a press curiosity and a separate web publication.

One of L'Humanite's former directors, Roland Leroy, said the newspaper had at times "got lost through dogmatic blindness".Its current director, Patrick Le Hyaric, has struggled to widen the newspaper's appeal.

He said he hopes that the slimmed-down publication - which sacked 60 employees in 2001 and now relies on just 58 journalists - would stop losing money next year.

© AFP                                                   

                                                         Subject: French news

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