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French weekly magazines review 21 October 2018

__ DR

As the government attempts to reform French retirement law, what's it really like to grow old in the Macron era?Are dark, shadowy forces trying to bring the news media to heel? Who are they? And what do they hope to achieve?


In the week in which the European Court of Justice decided that the Polish parliament had no right to lower the retirement age for judges to a venerable 65, from a positively chin-drooling 70, two of the French magazines look at the realities of life after retirement.

Is it the start of a brave new world? Or the beginning of the end on the scrapheap?

Le Point's main headline is a question: "Is it still possible to get old in France?" And the small print offers at least a partial answer, explaining why the French treat pensioners so badly. Basically, they don't like us. We wet our beds, fart, forget our names and cost a fortune. Plus we're a practically dead loss. Soon to be literally that. Worse, we're multiplying . . . no, not because of viagra, because of statistics. By the year 2070, 47 percent of the French population will be over the age of sixty. So get used to us. We're the future. Well, sort of!

Le Nouvel Observateur asked twenty current retirees how much they actually earn. The range is from the massive pension of Benoît, who used to work as a psychiatrist in a hospital, and he now lives on 5,815 euros each month, augmented from time to time by emergency call ins from his former employer. Benoît actually earns more now that he's retired than he did when he worked full time. That's one shrink at least with his head in working order.

At the other end of the spectrum there's Philippe the farmer, struggling to survive on a paltry 740 euros each month, but also doing better financially now than when he was working full time. He used to earn 580 euros, for a seven-day week, with no sick leave or holidays, and he hasn't stopped working since he was 17 years old. But before he can begin to benefit from the fabulous sum proposed by the government, Philippe will have to sell his farm and animals. His home, his life's work, in other words, for a pension which leaves him 300 euros below the poverty line.

And while were talking about inequalities, guess what? French women retire with average incomes 25 percent lower than those of male pensioners.

So good they named it twice

L'Express devotes the cover and an inside supplement to New York, no city for old men. The Big Apple is, we are assured, the global centre for talent, power and money, it's the most attractive city in the world. Though probably not if you're a 66-year-old French-speaking ex-farmer with an income of 200 dollars a week!

Why the rich are buying newspapers

The weekly Marianne is worried about the efforts of various forces in contemporary French society which are determined to bring the news media to heel.

Chief among the accused is President Emmanuel Macron who, despite assurances that he believes in a free and independent press, is, according to Marianne, virulently against a profession which he accuses of publishing half truths (did somebody shout "fake news!"?) and of attempting to replace the judiciary. The magazine suggests that the presidential change of heart coincided with the summer feeding frenzy provided by the violent and otherwise illegal behaviour of one of Macron's henchmen, Alexandre Benalla, currently facing trial for causing grevious bodily harm, false arrest, illegal possession of a police weapon and impersonating a police officer.

Then there's the monster Gafa or Gafam, for Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft, those new technology behemoths who have already brought the print media to death's door and are now trying turn the key in the lock. Not only have they swallowed up the advertising revenue, they have done it at the expense of the news values of traditional journalism. Why read boring, accurate real news when you can get much better fake news sent straight to your smartphone?

And finally there are the press barons, those sometimes shadowy billionaires who feel that a magazine or two and a daily newspaper is a useful tool when it comes to winning friends and terrorising the opposition.

Patrick Drahi is one such. He owns a mobile phone company on which he offers his own magazines and radio stations. He also owns the daily paper Libération and the weekly l'Express.

Then there's Vincent Bolloré, Martin Bouygues, the Dassault family, Bernard Arnault.

If you have enough money, the liberal argument goes, why not spend it feeding journalists? The crucial question is what you ask said journalists to do (or not do) to ensure their pittance.

Marianne have their own problems. They've just been saved from bankruptcy, closure and collapse by their very own billionaire, a Czech by the name of Daniel Kretinsky. No cretin, he already owns most of the daily papers in his native Czech Republic, and is trying to buy several other French titles. He has promised to respect the history and editorial independence of Marianne. He would, wouldn't he?

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