carry on laughing Charlie Hebdo's Rebel Streak

Two years after the attack, the chief editor of France's satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, Gérard Biard is planning more mockery-packed pages than ever.
The French satirical magazine launched a German edition on December 1 last year.

Two years after the attack on Charlie Hebdo, when two Islamist terrorists burst killed 12 people in the Paris offices of the satirical magazine and killed 12 people, millions voiced their solidarity with the slogan "Je suis Charlie."

Since then, Charlie Hebdo has became a symbol of free speech. But it has moved to new offices in an undisclosed location, and the editor in chief Gérard Biard prefers to conduct interviews by phone. In a conversation with Handelsblatt, he was contemplative about what else had changed. "We have rediscovered our energy, and we have projects," he said.

Mr. Baird, a journalist who has led the magazine for 15 years and worked at the weekly for a further ten, said what counted was thinking about the future.

Many employees have been in therapy, and few talk about the incident anymore, though their laughter is less carefree than before. "Laughing is our most important motivator – though it doesn't have to be joyful, it can also be cynical or sarcastic," he said.

You don't win the war against terrorists with borders and controls. Gérard Biard, Editor-in-Chief, Charlie Hebdo

The loss of coworkers didn't just affect the general mood in the office; the magazine is also still having trouble finding new illustrators, he said. Still, "we advocate for freedom of the press and we debate just as we used to," he said.

Thanks to its strong cash flow, Charlie Hebdo can make bold plans for the future. The magazine has seen an enormous increase in circulation. "We had 8,000 subscribers before the attack, and now we have 50,000. We also sell 60,000 to 70,000 copies at newsstands." In the period immediately following the attack, the magazine periodically had as many as 200,000 subscribers. The first edition after the terrorist attack had a print run of seven million copies and was quickly sold out.

The proceeds gave the magazine a strong foundation but the extra money also led to disagreements in the editorial offices about how it should be used.

According to Mr. Biard, the €4.3 million ($4.5 million) in donations the magazine reportedly received was given to the victims' families. He was unwilling to reveal what happened to the millions in revenues from the large first edition after the attack. Publisher Laurent Sourisseau and financial manager Eric Portheault allegedly deposited some of the money into a special rainy-day fund. The editors had called for more say about how the money should be used but according to Mr. Biard, the dispute has been resolved.

The magazine launched its German edition a few weeks ago, with a print run of 150,000. "We felt that there was special interest coming from Germany, not just in the attack but also in the magazine itself," Mr. Biard said.

The editors have paid even more attention to Germany since the attack on a Christmas market in Berlin on December 19. Mr. Biard condemned the way the media made headlines with the attack. "There's so much pathos. What's the point of running two pages of candlelight and memorial services? As sad as it is, that says nothing."

The media is just taking advantage of the drama instead of asking why the attack occurred in the first place, he said. "Whether it's Paris, Nice or Berlin, we've always seen the same images and read the same stories. Giant headlines in all newspapers."

But how else should incidents like these be reported? "First of all, there is the question of whether there should be so much reporting about the attack itself," Mr. Biard said. "Instead, we need to think about it more, and we need more debate. What are the movements behind the attacks? How do they change our society?"

After the Berlin attack, the cover of the German edition of Charlie Hebdo depicted a gingerbread house with gun barrels protruding from it. "They will not change our way of life," the headline read. After the Berlin attacker had fled across Europe, the magazine criticized politicians who are calling for border controls, writing: "You don't win the war against terrorists with borders and controls." According to Charlie Hebdo, terrorists couldn’t care less about borders. Charlie hasn't lost its rebellious streak.

 

Tanja Kuchenbecker reports for Handelsblatt and WirtschaftsWoche from Paris. To contact the author:

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