By Michel Broué, mathematician,
Dominique Cardon, sociologist,
Stéphanie Chevrier, publisher,
Christine Lazerges, lawyer,
François Vitrani, head of associations.
Restoring public confidence in information requires restoring the independence of the media. It is not only a question of editorial independence, a daily struggle which requires all editorial offices regardless of their professional context, as recalled in 1971 by the “Munich Charter”, the Declaration of the Duties and Rights of Journalists: “The responsibility of journalists towards the public takes precedence over any other responsibility, in particular towards their employers and the public authorities”.
No, more essentially, it is about economic independence so that suspicions of dependency on private interests, whether financial or industrial, do not increase a ruinous discredit for the quality of public debate. This is, in France, both a long-standing challenge and a current issue.
Yesterday, to the spectacle of a press that was all the more debased in the Collaboration because it was already morally corrupt, the National Council of Resistance had made “its independence from the powers of money” a democratic imperative. This demand had been taken up by Albert Camus, in the Combat de la Libération, as early as 1944: “Any moral reform of the press would be in vain if it was not accompanied by political measures to guarantee newspapers real independence from capital”.
If this hope was largely disappointed, it was nonetheless at the heart of the challenge taken up at the time by Le Monde, whose founder, Hubert Beuve-Méry, feared this “industrial press”, where information becomes the “advantageous by-product” of shareholders interested in ensuring that it “does not harm very material and very specific interests or, on occasion, that it serves them very effectively”.
Nowadays, since the companies of journalists or staff have lost possession of capital where they had conquered it – essentially at Le Monde and Libération – it is an understatement to say that the existence of newspapers liberated from the power of money seems an unrealistic utopia. On the contrary, we believe that it is an attainable and, above all, necessary objective when the vast majority of our private media have become the property of shareholders whose main activities are outside the information business.
We have decided to demonstrate this by launching the Free Press Fund (FPL), which has the status of an endowment fund and as such is eligible for tax-free donations. Born from an initiative of the co-founders and employees of Mediapart, whose capital, now controlled by this non-profit structure, is thus totally protected from any predation, made non-transferable and inviolable, this Fund is at the service of a cause now common to many editorial offices in the difficult fight for their economic independence. Its mission of general interest is indeed “to defend press pluralism and the independence of journalism, essential conditions for freedom of information”.
Unheard of in France, the path it opens is the one traced by the first president of the Société des rédacteurs du Monde, Jean Schwœbel, who, in 1968, in La Presse, le pouvoir et l’argent, dreamed of inventing a new model of press companies that protects the right to information from financial speculation and economic pressures. Allowing the capital to be held by a non-profit entity, in other words a non-capitalist entity, it is in line with the hopes recently expressed by Le Monde journalists to their current shareholders.
At a time of upheavals brought about by the digital revolution, the Free Press Fund intends to ensure that this revolution does not lead to a regression of press pluralism, a loss of editorial independence and a weakening of freedom of information. While hate speech – Islamophobic, racist, sexist, homophobic – is, alas, allowed in the media, it also intends to promote journalism in the public interest, based on humanist, democratic and social values, in the service of the common good, equal rights, the rejection of discrimination and the rejection of injustice.
The question of the integrity, quality and independence of information has become a central democratic issue. This is the raison d’être of the FPL and our commitment to this cause, in the diversity of our backgrounds.