Mediamatic Magazine vol 5#4 Lex Wouterloot 1 Jan 1991

Le Monde Diplomatique

publication mensuelle, 5 rue Antoine-Bourdelle, 75501 Paris Cedex 15, French text, pp. 32, FF 17

Who wants yesterday's papers?


Le monde diplomatique -

was a rhetorical question posed by the Rolling Stones, Old news has no appeal to the public; old newspapers constitute an environmental issue. Printed matter once read is thrown away. But the conventional wisdom referred to by Mick Jagger doesn't apply to the readers of the French daily Le Monde - it lags behind by a day in its reporting. The slowness of its editors is a guarantee of quality and the dull layout of its pages (without photographs) an expression of its seriousness.

In its graphic design, the monthly Le Monde Diplomatique seems to take a more contemporary approach. Its pages are enlivened by photographs and color illustrations, but there are limits to lightness. Readers are expected to save old issues of the periodical in a cardboard box, because the well-wrought, elaborate articles contain not only footnotes, but also references to earlier issues. Not long ago, the quality of the paper which it's printed on was improved to limit the amount of damage acidification can do to this bearer of information.

The amount of attention paid to the media in this seemingly rigid old monthly about foreign politics may seem surprising. Itsname seems to date from a time when foreign diplomacy was a discrete art practiced in silence by noble envoys, CNN’S spectacle diplomacy with regard to the crisis in Kuwait has definitively involved the world public in the exchange of political moves. The foreign world has landed in the media, and media are an object of world politics. The contents of Le Monde Diplomatique bear witness to how much ground world politics and the media have in common.

A geo-political classification provides a good impression of the sort of articles one can expect to find. It goes without saying that much attention is paid to the absolute superpower of the United States. When the Reagan era drew to a close, the shift in the kind of programs offered on American television was examined. The competition is forcing us to make crazier and crazier programs. For half a year, an attempt was made to fathom the mystery of the American electronic media. An article entitled A Constant Insult to Thought was printed next to a sympathetic description of c-span, the channel which shows democracy in action.
European integration is one of Le Monde Diplomatique's prominent themes, including the effect of the formation of one large, single European market. In the February issue, one could read an examination of the influence of government subsidies on the formation of press-concentrations. The Soviet Union, with its state monopoly on public opinion, didn't seem as good a subject for intensive analysis. Perestroika has caused a genuine media revolution, and in October, the development of a multi-faceted, pluralistic press received the attention it merited, under the title: Long Live Capitalism, Down with the Revolution! And neither is the third world lost from sight. Last year, a great deal was written about recent developments in the Indonesian film industry and a television station in Australia which focuses on the renaissance of Aboriginal culture in the media age.

At first glance, this monthly magazine with the format of a newspaper seems to contain conventional, journalistic pieces. A closer look reveals some very exceptional articles among them. This qualification certainly applies to the analysis of the image of the cold war in comic strips, or the fear of a population explosion as expressed in novels from the time of the yellow peril up to contemporary science fiction. The analysis of the mythical mass grave in Timisoara which was created in the media during the December revolution forms a part of this series, as well.

Le Monde Diplomatique's goal in disentangling cases of collective media hysteria such as this ‘scoop of the century' isn’t only a journalistic or social-scientific one. The perspective from which the articles are written is a political one. In a world typified by 'triumphant capitalism’, it attempts once again to pose social and economic questions as political problems. Reevaluation of politics and the creation of an arena with room for democratic decision making is the policy underlying this attempt. This nearly 'dated' focus on politics gives the magazine a sharp, polemical power in the midst of post-modern, intellectual decadence.

Their lack of swiftness, the dullness of their graphic design and a defiant sobriety price Le Monde and Le Monde Diplomatique out of the world market. France is a world power which has been waning for practically a century. Whatever else it may have done, this strategic marginalisation has given a special impulse to intellectual life, the reverberations of which can be found in Le Monde Diplomatique, a bastion of writer-journalists. Whether it turns its attention to the commercialisation of copyrights, necrophiliac television or the lack of an educational dimension in the French media, this magazine deserves more attention than it is getting. The recent appearance of Spanish and Arabic editions is welcome, indeed.

translation Jim Boekbinder