Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Was the 1945 liberation "an explosion of liberty” for French newspapers or a “moment of purge"?

Alberto Toscano turned a page of a 1780 issue of Journal de Paris, France’s first daily newspaper. He touched the back of the newspaper and then delicately turned it over, savoring the faint, musty smell that rose from the bound book of newspapers that held it.
Thus writes Elian Peltier in his New York Times article about the man who for the past 30 years has been collecting English- and French-language newspapers dating from the 1960s to as far back as 1673.
Toscano, a 67-year-old Italian retired journalist living [in Paris], considers his extensive collection of over 100,000 newspapers the best history books he has ever read. About 70 examples from the collection are now on exhibit outside the Paris City Hall until Sept. 15 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.

 … At the inauguration of the City Hall exhibition last month, Mr. Toscano explained to Anne Hidalgo, the mayor, that with this particular selection, he wanted to show “the explosion of freedom in French journalism after the liberation” of Paris from the Nazis in August 1944.

The attitude of the French press toward the occupying forces and the Vichy government remains a sensitive topic in France. During the war, newspapers were divided between clandestine publications of the Resistance and collaborationist newspapers that the writer and philosopher Albert Camus called the “shame of our country” in an editorial published in the Resistance journal Combat in August 1944, when he was its editor in chief.

Patrick Eveno, a French historian of the press based in Paris, said: “The official French newspapers didn’t resist the Germans during the war. They were seen as traitors when Paris was liberated.”
In 1944, a spate of new publications changed the landscape of the French press, with 92 percent of the newspapers that existed during World War II banned by the government and their resources confiscated for the new publications, Mr. Eveno said. He called the liberation a “moment of purge for newspapers rather than an explosion of liberty.”

The new press, he said, became too moralizing and editorial, with French people soon tiring of the lack of information. At that time, in several editorials, Camus denounced the laziness of the new newspapers, such as when they would repeatedly announce the death of Hitler or the resignation of Franco at the end of 1944, based only on “hypothetical dispatches or mysterious suppositions.”

The Paris newspaper exhibition emphasizes the journalistic enthusiasm at the time, with 21 newspapers, including ones that are still published today, like Le Figaro or Le Monde, some printed in black and white and some in color. They vividly depict the momentous news of the day, including the capitulation of Germany and the atomic bombings.
 … the press of that time reflected public opinion, when French society wanted to forget about the years of collaboration with German forces and find a fresh impetus. 

 … Toscano plans to organize a show in 2016 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the 1946 Paris Peace Conference, which led to peace treaties between the Allies and Italy along with several other European countries the following year. He also dreams of putting together an exhibition about the invention of aviation and cars, told through newspapers.

“Already in the 1880s, newspapers would debate about electric motors, thermic ones or steam engine,” he said. “Looking more at the daily past would light up a lot of today’s debates.”