Patrick Eveno

The French Daily Le Monde A History of Independence Publication date : February 1, 2001

Over the past few years, the French political scene has been filled with lively — sometimes angry — discussions on the nature of information, how it is produced, manipulated and distorted. Critics of the media periodically attack the power of business over journalism. During the past two hundred years, the question of information in the modern world has been posed in the following manner: What can be done to finance the journalistic community so that it can carry out its work independently, without pressure from political, business or religious interests? And how can the investors, whose capital is tied up in the press, receive returns on their investments? The answer to these opposing demands is profitability. In the words of Hubert Beuve-Méry, the founder of the prestigious French national daily Le Monde, “a newspaper that doesn’t sell itself [to its readers] is forced to sell itself” to outside powers that may be more or less secret.

In the case of Le Monde, the newspaper’s profitability was guaranteed by its readers, because they knew the paper addressed them in a totally independent manner. For many years, the “virtuous circle” of Le Monde was the following: the quality and independence of the information that readers found in the paper resulted in the company’s profitability, which, in turn, guaranteed the newspaper’s independence. This process, set up by Beuve-Méry, was destroyed in the late 1970s.

In this book, the author reviews the various solutions that have been devised since then to correct the situation. He describes the workings of the media company that publishes Le Monde. In 1956, Beuve-Méry said, “Because the press is an industry (it remains an industry, although it is unlike other industries since most of what it produces is immaterial), it cannot ignore the laws that rule other forms of industrial development.” This remains truer than ever, and the author explains why and how. Using the example of Le Monde, the newspaper of the French elite, Patrick Éveno examines the state of the French press today.

Patrick Éveno is a lecturer at the University of Paris-I. He is the author of many books and articles on contemporary history, including La Guerre d’Algérie, published by Éditions La Découverte, and on the history of the press. He edited L’Histoire au Jour le Jour, published by Le Monde-Éditions.