INTERNATIONAL

Sarkozy to the aid of print media

French President says recession has added to the woes of the sector

PARIS: The French state is to help provide free newspaper subscriptions to teenagers for their 18th birthdays, President Nicolas Sarkozy announced on Friday. But the bigger gift is for France’s ailing print media.

Mr. Sarkozy also announced a nine-fold rise in the state’s support for newspaper deliveries and a doubling of its annual print advertising outlay amid a swelling industry crisis.

He argued in a speech to publishers that the measures are needed because the global financial crisis has compounded woes for a sector already suffering from falling ad revenues and subscriptions.

In a speech to industry leaders, Mr. Sarkozy said it was legitimate for the state to consider the print media’s economic situation. “It is indeed its responsibility... to make sure an independent, free and pluralistic press exists,” he said.

This is sensitive territory for Mr. Sarkozy, who has been accused of cosying up to media moguls and exerting influence over them. He is also no stranger to heavy criticism in the country’s often opinionated newspapers.

In measures to take effect next month, the state will increase its annual support for newspaper and magazine deliveries to €70 million from €8 million last year, and spend €20 million more a year for its advertisements in print publications. The state will also defer some fees the publications face.

One of Mr. Sarkozy’s solutions to help the industry is a pilot programme that will give teenagers celebrating their 18th birthday a free, yearlong subscription to any general news daily of their choice. The publisher is to give the newspapers away, while the state pays for the deliveries.

That initiative appeared designed to assuage industry fears that young readers don’t share the same appetite for print media that their parents and grandparents have, denting current and future revenues.

“The habit of reading the press is learned very young,” Mr. Sarkozy said, while insisting that the aid would only buy time for publishers to adapt to the new media landscape.

The initiative is designed to help the sector over three years “to modernise and invest in the print media sector in exchange for important structural reforms,” he said. The measures he announced Friday largely came from recommendations in a three-month study into the industry’s health that was released on January 8.

Restructure

The study also recommends that newspapers restructure their finances and that journalists be better trained for multiple forms of media, including online.

“None of the proposed measures... will be useful in the end if the profession doesn’t meet its challenges,” he said. “The industry has a future to reinvent... Time is running out.” — AP

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