News, money and the state – the long and revealing history of Agence France-Presse

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French news agency Agence France-Presse – nearly always known by its initials AFP - has had a colourful and often troubled 180-year history of being buffeted by French and international politics, financial vagaries and two world wars. Emerging like a phoenix from the ashes of Agence Havas in 1944, the modern version of the agency has had to deal with the conflicting demands of editorial independence and state funding. All this is related in a new book by AFP veteran Xavier Baron, Le Monde en direct. Here, Mediapart's Philippe Riès, himself a former AFP journalist, salutes the book and AFP's survival against the odds. But he also ponders on the lessons that can be learned about press independence from the story of an agency that still relies on government funding for its existence.

 

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France's news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP) has always had an ambivalent relationship with the state. Xavier Baron’s book, Le Monde en direct ('The World, Live', published by Éditions La Découverte) traces this right back to the birth in 1835 of AFP's ancestor, Agence Havas, which obtained backing from the July Monarchy over its numerous rivals for what was then an innovative idea. Now, 180 years later, beset by financial difficulties and technological challenges, AFP is still juggling with a modern version of the same old dilemma – how to maintain editorial independence while financially dependent on the government of the day.