Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Ségolène - 2

While "Ségo" may still be reticent about voicing the policies she has in mind for her home country, it seems that she is much more at ease in talking about those affecting people elsewhere.

There comes a time for every French president (or presidential candidate) when he or she must pronounce an opinion on the question of Quebec sovereignty, but while the last few have remained resolutely aloof, Ms Royal has now provoked the wrath of the Canadian government (!) by saying that she is personally all for it. Sovereignty, that is. Or, to use her exact quote, "I'm in favour of it. Liberty and sovereignty for Quebec reflect our shared common values."

The key word here is liberty. It makes hairs on the neck of an average pro-union Canadian stand up on end, simply because it brings back unpleasant memories of this guy, saying these things. French politicians seem to labour under the delusion that Quebec is some kind of neglected wilderness that the rest of Canada ignores, one step below Northern Ireland in terms of political injustice brough on by the British crown.

Well, err, no.

The truth is that Quebec receives more funding from the federal government than any other province, simply because it has used the very large bargaining chip of threatening sovereignty to extremely good effect over the past 30 years. Quebecers have their own National Assembly where they make their own laws, and have wielded the power of the Office québecoise de la langue française to ensure that French is Quebec's only official language. From a practical point of view, there is not a word of English on any Quebec road signs, business names or shop windows. It has its own public broadcaster, unfortunately titled Radio-Canada, but still entirely in French and watched by the majority of French Quebecers. Its economy has flourished over the past decade, and only seems to suffer when - guess what! - the sovereignty issue starts up again. But most importantly, from the point of view of Quebec separatists, Quebec has now been officially recognised by the Canadian government as a nation. To me, this says that Quebec is free to continue pursuing its policies of preservation and development of the French language and culture, and more power to them.

I used to support Quebec sovereignty for several years, and I don't despise those that still do. All I think now is that French Quebecers best chances of achieving their goals - cultural and economic - are by staying within a united Canada. As such, it doesn't need to be "liberated" from anything.

Ségolène, meanwhile, can count herself lucky that a political shitstorm in Canada tends to translate into a whimper overseas.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Sign o' the times*

Greetings all, and a very happy New Year, if somewhat belated.

There's a fascinating if sobering article in this week's Tribune (and over at Gauche) about the future of small, lefty magazines in Britain. It's brave stuff for Tribune itself to be printing, and comes as an uneasy reminder that, barely 10 years after the advent of the Internet, the initial predictions that it would swallow the print industry whole are suddenly looking much less far-fetched.

So what of Tribune, New Statesman, Red Pepper, New Humanist, Index on Censorship, New Left Review and their ilk? If this was the corporate sector, the obvious answer would be "Merge!", but that's a bit like asking the People's Front of Judea to patch things up with the Judean People's Front (splitters!).

Paul's article gives voice to concerns that have surely been rattling around the cramped offices of the above-mentioned publications for years, as core audiences dwindle, age and die. Transferring content to a snazzy, "interactive" website is definitely one way to modernise and potentially get more readers. Thing is, will the same amount of reader be willing to pay for online content, when the trend is increasingly for free user access? Banners and other forms of internet advertising are usually enough (when properly managed) to cover web hosting fees and possibly design costs, but as for staff wages, you can pretty much forget it.

The idea of paying per article won't work either, as this form of revenue won't be regular enough to provide any kind of stability in earnings. So that brings us back to annual subscriptions. Theoretically these could be cheaper on the internet than for printed magazines, as printing and distributing costs would be factored out of the sum. But how common are annual subcription fees for online magazines outside the business and finance sectors?

The other logical solution, which would again be anathema to most independent lefty magazines, would be to sell out to a larger publishing house or news corporation, like Slate magazine in the US, which is owned by the Washington Post Company. I can't really see that happening in this country, can you? The divergence of editorial views is just too large.

So where, then, for the average independent left-wing weekly (or bi-weekly, monthly or bi-monthly)? My own prediction is for a maximum of 10 more years surviving on one-off private donations before most will be forced to either shut down, make the switch to a completely online format (and thus end up being largely reliant on volunteer contributions) or look for buyers. In an ideal world, the best of the talent from each of these magazines would then come together and create a bigger and better new forum online. A forum aimed at younger people who use the internet at their main source of information, and who still want to have access to quality, intelligent, progressive feature journalism. We're still out there!

* Prince still sucks.