With a pinch of salt
The newspaper he writes for doesn’t believe in printing advertisements. For him, printing advertisements in a newspaper is a sign of not respecting the reader. In a time when most of us like to read news online — he calls himself ‘old fashioned’.chandigarh Updated: Jan 23, 2014 10:31 IST
The newspaper he writes for doesn’t believe in printing advertisements. For him, printing advertisements in a newspaper is a sign of not respecting the reader.
In a time when most of us like to read news online — which is leading to a decline in the physical sales of newspapers — he calls himself ‘old fashioned’, stating that his newspaper isn’t available online because the people of France still religiously buy Le Canard Enchaine (the Chained Duck or the Chainer Newspaper in English), a weekly satirical newspaper.
He is French journalist Frederic Pages, 63, who, for the past 20 years, has been working for a newspaper that features investigative journalism, leaks from sources inside the French political and business world, accompanied by jokes and humorous cartoons. On a rainy Wednesday, Frederic Pages sits in the cafeteria of Alliance Francaise, Sector 36, and introduces us to a world that seems a little alien to a media person from Chandigarh.
Pages, who has been writing many humorous editorials such as The Diary of Carla B and Mock Interviews, begins by talking about his paper: “It’s weekly paper that still sells 400,000 copies a week, which is a huge number for a place like France. The paper costs 1.20 euros, which is again not very expensive. We have 10 devoted cartoonists and 20 journalists. We have this no-advertising policy and the paper survives only by collections. Readers aren’t buying the paper to read the advertisements, you see. When I saw papers here (in India) filled only with advertisements, I realised that here people are mixing everything.”
Talking about the kind of challenges he faces, he says, “Working in a satirical paper is not a job; it’s like finding a point of view on a subject that happens to be the talk of the town. Even then there is a certain amount of struggle, as a lot of satire is already doing the rounds on radio, TV and various other papers. But, one has to somehow come up with something that is unexplored yet.”
For Pages, media persons there have a particular kind of power that they utilise in a certain manner. “A lot of attention is paid on the quality of information. Also, when one is writing a satirical piece on someone — a politician for instance — one calls the person in advance and informs him or her about it. This also helps the journalist take the safer route; at the end of it, his facts have been confirmed and thus he cannot get into any legal trouble.”
In his long career of journalism, Pagès has written two books of spoof philosophy — Jean-Baptiste Botul: La Vie Sexuelle d’Emmanuel Kant [The Sex Life of Emmanuel Kant] in 1999 and Nietzsche Ou Le Démon De Midi [Nietzsche, or The Midday Demon] in 2004. About the prospect of hitting stagnation after so many years, he says, “Something or the other keeps happening every week. Things cannot get monotonous. I don’t know if that’s the case in India, but France always gives us something or the other to write about. However, things are a little difficult for satirical papers, as they need to continuously have topics to write about. Now, even France has religious problems, but that’s a terrain you tread very carefully; it’s a very sensitive issue.”
Ask him if his paper is on the same lines as The Onion — the American news satire organisation — and Pages says, “That site doesn’t give any information; it’s mostly humour. But, even if there is not much information, it provides a good laugh!”
Pages is also a former philosophy teacher. In 1996, he founded the group Botul, of surrealistic inspiration, focused on Jean-Baptiste Botul’s thoughts — a mysterious thinker “about whom we know nothing”.