Sunday 23 October 2016

Sales up - but Charlie Hebdo 'died a year ago'

David Chazan

Published 03/01/2016 | 02:30

Charlie Hebdo 'survivors' cover
Charlie Hebdo 'survivors' cover

A columnist who is leaving the French magazine Charlie Hebdo has said the magazine he loved "died a year ago" ahead of a special edition to mark the anniversary of the attack by Islamist gunmen that killed 12 people.

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Patrick Pelloux, a journalist and casualty doctor who called President Hollande to tell him about the shootings last January, said: "My Charlie Hebdo died, the people who made it what it was were killed. We did survive, but part of us died."

A year on from the shootings, the satirical magazine's circulation has risen tenfold, but surviving staff are haunted by trauma, plagued by death threats and divided by internal squabbles.

A million copies of a special issue will be printed this week, including cartoons by some of those killed and messages of support for the left-wing weekly with a long history of mocking religions, especially Islam. The weekly that used to scrape by with sales of less than 30,000 now has more than 180,000 subscribers and distributes 100,000 copies to newsagents, in addition to 10,000 sold outside France.

But the unprecedented inflow of money has caused quarrels. Some staff have demanded that all employees be made equal shareholders.

It now spends massively on security and recently moved to a new, heavily guarded office at a secret address. Some staff have found it difficult to adapt to police escorts.

Charlie Hebdo first attracted international attention by republishing a Danish newspaper's incendiary cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in 2006. Since the attack, it has continued to cause controversy with irreverent cartoons. It is frequently sued.

It received about 20 death threats for a front-page cartoon last September depicting Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian child found dead on a Turkish beach whose picture prompted an outpouring of sympathy across the world. Charlie Hebdo showed his body beside a billboard advertising McDonald's children's menus, with a caption reading: "So close to the goal."

"In France we are accustomed to black humour even if some people misunderstood the point of these cartoons," Dr Pelloux said. "We were not mocking Aylan Kurdi or the Russians who died, we were making a point about hypocrisy. Even in France, however, leading cartoonists and journalists have urged Charlie Hebdo to tone down its satire of Islam.

The magazine's editor, Laurent Sourisseau, recently said that Charlie Hebdo may publish fewer caricatures of Mohammed, saying he does not want people to think it is "obsessed" with Islam.

Renald Luzier whose cartoon of a tearful Mohammed appeared on the cover on the "survivors' edition" published after the January attack (inset), has left, citing "fatigue".

Mr Sourisseau (49) admitted: "When we sold less, we were more relaxed. Now everyone is watching us."


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