No news is bad news, says Sarkozy

Every 18-year old in France is getting a free newspaper subscription, as part of a Eu600m state bailout...

by
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

French president Nicolas Sarkozy has agreed to stump up €600m in state aid, to try and revive his country’s flagging newspaper industry – and as part of the deal, he’s giving every 18-year-old a free sub to the paper of their choice, to try and get them into the habit of reading the news. Given the French media’s current woes (at least some of which are Sarko’s fault, admittedly), you can understand the need to attract young readers. But do 18-year-olds really want free newspapers – particularly at a time when they’re guaranteed to be such a thoroughly depressing read...?

Sarkozy’s plan, which follows a four-month study, has a number of strands: as well as the €600m subsidy, he’s also going to double the amount of state advertising in print and online news, relax the rules on non-French ownership, provide tax breaks for investors in online media, and increase the number of newspaper sales outlets. He’s also vaguely promised to support negotiations with the communist-controlled printers’ unions, to try and push costs down (currently the unions get sniffy unless their staff get a four-hour week and a set of gold toilets, which makes printing horrendously expensive). And this is all on top of the €1.5bn the industry already gets in state aid and subsidies.

In a speech yesterday, Sarko insisted that unless the French newspaper industry upped its game – by improving its content, appeal to younger readers and sorting out their websites – the independent press wouldn’t survive in its current form. On the other hand, this unpopularity is partly due to the fact that everyone thinks the Government has the national press in their pockets: much of the TV and print media in France appears to be controlled by Sarko’s mates, and he hasn’t been shy to lean on them for political favours. So it’s a bit rich for the pint-sized President to be bemoaning the demise of the free press.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that national papers are nothing like as popular in France as they are in the UK (and much less profitable), while their readership and advertising revenues are both shrinking fast. Hence the novel idea of giving away subscriptions – ‘the habit of reading a daily paper takes root at a very young age’, Sarkozy said yesterday. But do 18-year-olds really want a free newspaper, in this day and age? We certainly can’t see it working in the UK, now that young people get so much of their news online or via their mobiles.

On the other hand, French newspaper sites aren’t the best. Only last week the website of venerable sports paper L’Equipe (France’s biggest-selling daily) ran a piece about the bad boys of English football, in which they solemnly reproduced a highly libellous story about Robbie Fowler that had appeared on satirical website the Spoof.com (subtitled: ‘The story above is a satire or parody. It is entirely fictitious’). Now even the world's finest daily business news sites can make mistakes, of course. But even we'd be embarrassed by that one...

NB. Alternatively, any 18-year-old (or over) that really wants to stay abreast of the top business news stories could always sign up to our daily bulletin, and get a copy of MT through their letterbox every month instead. Just a thought...


In today's bulletin:
US hedge fund Paulson books £270m profit on RBS slump
NHS IT system on critical list
No news is bad news, says Sarkozy
Online networking for cautious candidates
McDonald's to open 1,000 new stores

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