Freedom of the press and newspapers under the Revolution

Freedom of the press and newspapers under the Revolution

In 1789, in the wake of the French Revolution, a opinion press which takes advantage of the newly acquired freedom of expression. Although its distribution was limited by the technical constraints of the time, this press exerted a strong influence on the political debate, each family of thought and each figure of the revolution having its own cabbage leaf: Hébert and his "Father Duchesne" , Desmoulins and its "Vieux Cordeliers", Marat and "l'Ami du peuple". Here is the genesis of the press under the revolution.

Freedom of press

When the King convenes the States General, he provides that the subjects will be able to freely publish all their requests and complaints. During the elections, we had complete freedom of expression and publication. In May 1789, however, the question arose as to whether the deputies could freely inform the country about the content of the debates in the National Assembly. The manager of the bookshop makes it clear that the parenthesis of press freedom is closed, and that debates in the Assembly must be kept private.

This answer embarrasses the deputies. In order to bypass the censorship, deputies inform their voters about the content of the debates by means of "letters to voters". They are indeed representatives of their constituents, so you have to let them know if their instructions are being followed. Censorship is trying to react, but must quickly give up pursuing MPs who are the starting point of freedom of expression (printing and publication) in fact. It is recognized in law in article 11 of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of August 26, 1789.

This freedom is not complete, however, as the DDHC cannot allow it to be abused. It specifies that freedom is granted "except to answer for the abuse of this freedom in the cases determined by the law". Thus, the press cannot insultingly attack private persons or incite public disorder. Cases of abuse should be determined by law and not by a simple decision of the administration. The law therefore protects freedom of expression, a concept that will be taken up in the Constitution of 1791. This freedom is however violated in fact, in particular under the Convention.

The content and form of newspapers

We can say that the press that appeared under the Revolution was essentially Politics, and what interests him first is to report on the work of the Assembly. But this is not "pure news", the journalist's point of view is indeed critical. Articles about national politics were controversial. There were hardly any newspaper companies at the time, they appeared in the 19th century with the industrial press. Typically, a newspaper is the work of one man who is editor, publisher, printer and broadcaster. The newspaper therefore has small dimensions: medium book format - reduced pagination: 4 pages, printing in 2 columns.

In the year 1789 alone, about 130 newspapers were published in Paris. However, these newspapers have a low circulation due to the conditions of publication (hand presses - it is estimated that in an hour, only 300 copies can be printed). The only exception concerns the case of the few rare companies which have several presses and several printing workers at their disposal, such as the Journal de Paris published from 1777 which prints more than 10,000 copies.

Diffusion and influence of the press

There were two modes of distribution: porterage, home delivery and hawking, by criers. Parisian newspapers can also be sold in the provinces. Sent by post, 100,000 copies leave Paris every day. Most often, the newspaper is sold by subscription. This one is however expensive, the newspaper is thus reserved for a certain elite of the population.

There are two ways for the mass of the population to know about the press, besides reading rooms which, however, require the ability to read: public posting and public reading of the newspaper. When "popular societies" are formed, a sort of political party for the sans-culottes, one of their main activities will be public reading and commenting on the newspaper.

Public rumor aside, the press remains the only means of information of the mass of the population, especially since it is controversial. The newspapers are thus a means of political mobilization. As a result, rulers closely scrutinize the press and are very sensitive to its power. They consider the press as a weapon, a counter-power. The rulers fear the press and journalists. For example, Marat publishes "The People's Friend" which is one of the most influential newspapers in public opinion and one of the most feared by rulers because of its virulence.

For further

- La Presse de la Révolution: Newspapers and Journalists (1789-1799), by Jeremy Popkin. Odile Jacob, 2011.

- Birth of the revolutionary newspaper: 1789, by Claude Labrosse (Author), Pierre Rétat. PUL, 1989.


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