Paris Match, the most read weekly magazine in France, was at the front lines of last weeks’ terrorist attacks’ media coverage. Regis LeSommier, Paris Match’s Deputy Editor-In-Chief, recounts the week, how the magazine planned their coverage and his view on what will change after these events.
What were the first reactions at Paris Match when you heard of the attack at Charlie Hebdo?
Tragically, we learned of the attack while we were in our weekly editorial meeting. The first thing we did was try and get in touch with people there. We called Laurent Leger, who is now on staff at Charlie Hebdo but had worked for us for a long time. We could not get through. We later learned that he was the sole survivor of the 14 people that sat around the table during the editorial meeting at Charlie Hebdo. He had managed to hide under a chair and escape safely.
Then we tried to call Wolinski, who had also been a long time member of our staff. His first drawing appeared in Paris Match in November of 1990, and he had been doing a weekly cartoon for us for over 25 years. We thought he might be okay as we saw his daughter post on social media: “Papa is wounded.” Later, Richard Malka, the attorney for Charlie Hebdo called to tell us he was dead. So the attacks felt very personal. Firstly because he and Cabu were members of our family, they had both contributed to the magazine for a long time, but also because Charlie Hebdo is not the only publication under threat.
Today when you investigate Daech (the French official name for ISIS), you are also taking a risk. I won’t go into details but I can assure you that it is not only cartoons that are at stake here.
The most shocking was the fact that heavy weapons like Kalashnikovs were used and that the modus operandi was very much that of a military execution. As journalists, we see this in wars overseas but never would imagine this coming back to our country. Clearly the war is now at home and journalists are no longer mere side casualties of conflicts they happen to be covering, but are becoming targets themselves for the sake of expressing a point of view.
What type of coverage did you plan from there?
It was pretty much minute-by-minute coverage. We mobilized all of our staffers and contributors, sent our reporters everywhere and used every possible support to have 360-degree coverage on our web-site but also on mobile and social media. We used our photo blog L’Instant to show the best images. We used new writers. It is important to have a voice coming directly from all communities.
What in your mind are the most important visuals coming out of these events?
To me, there are two images that will remain. The first is the one of the terrorist executing the policeman who is lying wounded on the ground. This image is very similar to the ones we have seen coming from the Islamic State meticulously executing victims but without taking a look at them. The police were very shocked that we used that image. I think that this visual has been at the source of a reconciliation between the French People and its police. A funny moment during Sunday’s march was the astonished faces members of the police made when the crowd started cheering them. They were completely taken aback and did not know what to do. Historically, the French people never had great respect for their police force, so they are used to being cursed or spat at so don’t know how to react when people try to hug them.
The other very important photo is an image of the Republican Statue with demonstrators on it brandishing with pens. It resembles the Raft of the Medusa by Gericault and is a perfect symbol for the importance freedom of speech has in the French Republic. [See photo below. Credit: Corentin Fohlen/Paris Match]
The question here being whether someone will dare again represent Mohammed? I think the answer has already been given by the brand new cover of Charlie Hebdo showing Mohammed crying and saying, “All is forgiven.” Of course, we have to continue to allow the representation of things that might make people uncomfortable. I was very disappointed by the position of some American media, like AP and the New York Times, who decided to pull or not to reproduce the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. I think it is absolutely key to show where the issue is coming from. I can understand their desire to respect sensitivities but not at the cost of information. Freedom of speech should have zero limits.
How do you think these events will affect France moving forward?
Clearly, we now know that there are hundreds of French people that have left France to go train in Syria and have come back. The police have also clearly stated that they are not able to survey every one of them 100% of the time. So the questions are how strong is our anti-terrorism intelligence and will these trained militants now decide to remain as silent as they have during Sunday’s march?