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Did France pay for Macron’s letter to be published across Europe?

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CheckNews, France

17 March 2019, Updated: 9 May 2019

Emmanuel Macron’s letter, entitled “A European renaissance”, was published as an op-ed in newspapers of 28 EU countries. Initially appearing in 28 publications across 26 member states, the letter was eventually published in a total of 40 sources and 35 countries. It was not paid for.

Macron’s text was passed to the newspapers who published it via Project Syndicate, a nonprofit which connects authors with news organisations who might publish their work. Op-eds are translated in various languages and published in news sources across the world in order to reach the largest audience possible.

Project Syndicate has offered op-eds by Joseph Stiglitz, Christine Lagarde and Melinda Gates, for example. The organization’s director, contacted by CheckNews, explains that authors are not paid and do not pay the organization. “In 25 years Project Syndicate has never been paid by an author for the distribution of an op-ed within our network of over 500 publications in 157 countries”, it says. “We believe that the whole world deserves access to the greatest minds.” When contacted by CheckNews, the Elysée (office of the French president) confirmed that it did not pay Project Syndicate or anyone else for the publication.

However, Project Syndicate’s partner publications can, in certain cases, pay a monthly subscription in exchange for regular op-eds. Organizations in the most developed countries pay full price, allowing media in poorer economies to benefit from op-eds for a reduced fee or free of charge. Prices were not provided to us. In France, newspapers Les Echos and Le Monde are project partners and pay a monthly subscription. The label “Project Syndicate” features on every op-ed published in this way, as can be seen here or here.

It is by this means that the Elysée decided to broadcast Macron’s article to the rest of Europe, maximizing its chances of being widely published. It was also the Elysée (via the French foreign ministry) which translated the letter into other European languages and which transmitted it on the morning of 4 March to Project Syndicate, which then relayed it to its partners in the 27 other European countries.

In countries where it does not have partners Project Syndicate made agreements with organizations it had previously worked with, as was the case with Lithuania. Or else it decided “jointly” with the Elysée which media would receive the text, says Project Syndicate: “no orders were given to us”. For its part the Elysée acknowledges having consulted embassies so as to choose “the most neutral possible” publications.

The op-ed, under embargo until the evening of Monday 4 March for the web and Tuesday 5 for physical newspapers, was at first published by 28 European media. The article was thus published a little after 19.00 on 4 March by The Guardian and El País, for example. This exclusivity did not last long: 2 hours later the text was available in all the European languages on the Elysée’s website. Using Project Syndicate gave the Elysée a guarantee that the letter would be published simultaneously in all EU countries and, above all, that the embargo would be respected.

Subsequently, many publications unaffiliated to Project Syndicate decided to publish the letter. For example, a Greek journalist explained to CheckNews that it was widely published across the Greek media and that the interest of this appeared to him “obvious”, “given the challenges faced by Europe and with the approaching European elections”. The situation was similar in Germany: only Die Welt published the article at 19.12, but after the Elysée’s online posting Handelsblatt, Tagesspiegel and Spiegel Online all followed suit. According to a colleague at the German fact-checker Correctiv, there was no debate about the publication: “there was strong public demand”, and “op-eds by important politicians are always published”.

To sum up, nobody paid to have Macron’s article published, and no media paid to be able to publish it. 28 news organizations obtained exclusive rights to publish it a few hours before the French presidency made it available. These rights were within the context of a subscription to an organization specialized in the simultaneous publication of op-eds in different countries. The French presidency provided translations for all languages.

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