Bonjour! It is now october 2013 and following a lengthy period of inactivity we are updating this site which has so much potential. I would like to invite NUJ members in France or elsewhere to submit stuff for publication. Theatre or art reviews, short stories, comments....anything will be considered! James Overton, chairman of Paris branch NUJ
In the weeks and months after the terror attacks in Paris which left 130 dead and 300 wounded, Paris is recovering slowly from the shock caused by these awful events.
Two days after the murderous attack at the offices of the newspaper Charlie Hebdo, (onWednesday January 7,) a dignified ceremony took place involving representatives of international journalist organisations outside the crime scene on Rue Nicholas Appert in Paris.
Mogens Blicher Bjerregaard, Danish president of the European Federation of journalists said: “I came to Paris to express my sympathy with the French colleagues at Charlie Hebdo. This is a tragedy. Attacking the liberty of the press amounts to attacking democracy itself.”
Anthony Bellanger, deputy secretary-general of the International Federation of Journalists said: “We came to express our emotion after our colleagues at Charie Hebdo were killed on Wednesday. We need to stand with our head held high for the sake of the whole profession, not just here in France but all over the world. We have received messages of support from Asia, Oceania, Africa and the Americas. Everywhere people are getting ready to defend the freedom of expression and freedom of the press. Today we are all Charlie Hebdo.”
On Sunday, January 11, NUJ Paris organized a welcome committee for the NUJ delegation which included general-secretary Michelle Stanistreet, assistant GS Seamus Dooley and the union’s co-president Andy Smith.
In a press release, NUJ Paris branch had issued this statement: “The murder in cold blood of our colleagues at Charlie Hebdo is a direct attack on the most fundamental human right - the right to free speech. Some of the victims were personal friends of certain (Paris NUJ) members. We offer our support and solidarity to the victims’ loved ones. The price for being a journalist is often the highest a person can pay. The bravery and engagement of our colleagues at Charlie Hebdo sets an example to us all. Our resolve to work for a world in which freedom of expression can be expressed remains intact.”
With the help of branch members, French and Spanish versions were communicated to sister unions around the world. On Sunday morning, 11 January, the NUJ added its contribution to an impressive pile of flowers left by the police barrier close to the crime scene. This has been growing all the time, as people pay their personal tributes to the victims. The dead who were remembered were not only the 12 killed during the murderous attack at Charlie Hebdo, but also the young policewoman killed in south Paris and the four people who died at the supermarket at Porte de Vincennes.
When the time came to gather for the march, members of the NUJ delegation were asked to gather with officials from other national and international journalist unions at a pre-arranged pick-up point near the river Seine. Around 2pm, we were driven by coach to Boulevard Richard Lenoir and deposited within a “protected square,” guarded by police and volunteer trade union marshals.
Those within the square included representatives from the three main French journalist unions, the IFJ and EFJ, delegations from Italy, Spain and Belgium and the NUJ. A long banner had been prepared, bearing logos of the French and international unions.
In the street, the journalist “protected square” was immediately behind another zone containing relatives and friends of the victims. It was particularly poignant to see the courage of these people, some aged or in wheelchairs, as they struggled to maintain their composure and participate in the event.
Shortly after 3pm, two coaches arrived with the government leaders, including President Francois Hollande, UK Prime Minister David Cameron, German chancellor Angela Merkel and many others. They formed up in another protected zone behind us and posed for the cameras. Eventually the march got going, very slowly. Half an hours later the government leaders were escorted back to their coaches and left, they had in fact only walked about 50 meters. The procession continued, with dense crowds standing on both sides of the Boulevard applauding.
Members of the journalist delegations held up their press cards and were welcomed particularly warmly.
Apart from occasional chants of “Charlie!” the march was generally silent.
Around 5 pm, with night falling, the procession arrived at the vast Place de la Nation where the march ended. There was no platform, there were no speeches. People gradually dispersed among the dense throng.
It was remarkable to see among the enormous crowd people of all ages and backgrounds, including families and many young people.
There were significant numbers from immigrant communities. Many held hand-drawn signs saying they were Muslim or Jewish. On the way home, we discussed the day with neighbours travelling on the metro, buses or regional trains. Among the diverse comments collected: “Can we retain this movement which motivated so many people?”. It was very disciplined and spontaneous,” It is essential that a wide-ranging debate be held after these horrific events”, “We were impressed by the lack of political flags and slogans, that was very unusual on a demonstration”, "The police army and security services did a magnificent job."
The shootings at Charlie Hebdo, the 17 dead victims, the puzzling motivations of the perpetrators and the ghastly yet dramatic dénouement have left many around me stunned.
Paradoxically it proved healthier to do my journalistic work during that period. I found a focus and purpose which was therapeutic. Besides reporting the events, my union duties also required me to help draft statements and welcome international delegations and accompany them to the crime scene at Rue Nicolas Appert in Paris, then on the extraordinary January 11 peace march in Paris.
Like everybody, I have been involved in numerous discussions and arguments with friends who have been trying to make sense of it all. Along with a girl quoted in one of the TV broadcasts I found myself agreeing that, “je me sens profondément blessée par ce qui s’est passé,” (I feel profoundly wounded by what happened.)
The attack represented an abhorrent violation of the principle of a free press, which is a cornerstone of democracy.
Although they have gone out of fashion, the “valeurs républicaines,” the legacy of the French revolution, the heroism of the Resistance heroes are reasons why I am so attached to France. (By the way, I guess one would have difficulty explaining “Republican Values” to a US TV channel.)
As for the ideology of the killers, it is very baffling. However, the crazed trio’s claimed allegiance to Islam is not the first time an ideology has been usurped with such bloody results. The Inquisition claimed to represent the Roman Catholic Church. Pol Pot claimed to represent Marxism.
Out of the carnage, it is a relief to notice some positive outcomes, including the inspirational words of Prime Minister Manuel Valls and the statements of a lady by the name of Latifa Ben Ziaten. Madame Latifa is the mother of Imad Ibn Ziaten, the 30-year-old French soldier murdered on 11 March, 2012 by the terrorist Mohammed Merah.
This courageous woman is daring to stand up within her community to talk about the true religion, about peace, and principles of brotherhood as defined in the Declaration of the Rights of Man, that epic document drafted in Paris in 1789.
Here is a link to her foundation: http://association-imad.fr/
USA founding father Thomas Jefferson, along with Lafayette, are credited with having written a significant part of that historic declaration which also owes much to the work of English thinkers Thomas Hobbes and John Locke.
For three centuries, France has been the crucible of the spirit of enlightenment, reason and justice. That is why public reaction by the French to recent events has been so poignant. It shows that in spite of the drastic modifications to society which have taken place since that time, people retain at heart a deep attachment to those core values.
Good night and good luck.
Outgoing chair Jim Pollard’s report to the 2010 AGM.
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Reminder letters out soon
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