Claude Bellanger remembers

1978 marked the 30th anniversary of the FIEJ (Fédération Internationale des Éditeurs de Journaux), now WAN-IFRA. One man, Claude Bellanger, has had an outstanding influence on the whole history of the FIEJ: he is one of the founders and assumed the functions of general secretary from its creation in 1948, then of the president from 1962 up to 1978. This year, Claude Bellanger handed the Presidency over Harold W. Andersen, publisher of Omaha World-Herald, USA. It was in a conversational mood that he recalled memories arising from his activities within the organisation during the period 1948 to 1978, speaking about men, facts, and events from the thread of his memory.


“I think that first of all, I should describe a little the kind of man I am and why I have thus been led, in a fairly agitated professional life, to take part unremittingly in the creation and the life of the FIEJ.


In the first place, it must be remembered that I have always been a newsman: I began to write in a daily newspaper when I was still at high school; I have created, directed, and run different publications; I have never ceased being both journalist and publisher and at the same time taking part in a large number of creations. I like convincing, I like running things, like undertaking things, I like directing… that is the foundation of my temperament.


And then a second fact must be borne in mind, which is the following: why have I always been interested in the foreign problem? I had scarcely left school when already, thanks to my parents, fortunately, very understanding, I was travelling the highways and byways of Europe. Once, I left home to go to a congress which was to last eight days, and I returned home nine months later, having lived by my own resources through the Baltic countries, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Germany. I accord much importance to Germany, which I know, I think, by heart.


At the same time, I took part while still very young in the international life of very diverse organizations. For example, I created the press secretariat – always the press – of the International Student Confede­ration; I have been a member of the international committee of the international university mutual aid; I have been a delegate for the same International Student Confederation with the International Institute of Intellectual Cooperation, which is the ancestor of UNESCO, and with the International Federation of Journalists. I have also taken part, in this difficult period, in international meetings where there were to be found side by side young teachers, young writers and students, of which I was one. That was necessary to try and find common points for bringing together minds, peoples and at the same time so as not to sit passively by watching the growing danger from 1933 onwards. That is to say that I have constantly been mixed up in international life; it has always passionately interested me; I have always given a great deal to it, and I have learned a great deal from that place.


So we arrive at the pre-war years. During the occupation, everyone knows, I took part actively in the Resistance, from September 1940 until the end. Among the underground publications in my hands, there is one which deserves perhaps to be quoted and which is not absolutely out of place in this biographical reminder.


In 1943, in Paris, there appeared an anthology of German poetry in two volumes, very officially under the aegis of the German university institute, with chosen texts published in their original German version side by side with their French translation and then, for each author, a biographical account. Now, nourished, as I have said, on German culture, I, who was engaged in the struggle, was shocked by the publi­cation in France of an anthology of German verse in which there appeared no Jew, no one opposed to the regime, i.e., no liberal, no socialist, no communist. The German poetry seemed to me to be mutilated thereby.


And it was then with a German teacher friend that I made a complemen­tary anthology of German verse. And under the title «The Friends», with the same bilingual presentation of the German text and of the French text of the biographical accounts, there appeared a complementary version of German verse ageless and complete, going from Heinrich Heine to my friend – whom I knew well in Berlin and whom I met again after the war in Munich – Erich Kästner and many others. I think that making this effort, with the dangers which that involved, to publish the work in the underground Editions de Minuit, under the aegis of the National Committee of Writers, indeed shows that, for the cultured man that I think I am, freedom entails the defence of culture and also the defence of the culture of he who at that time was the enemy.


But now we arrive at the post-war years. Coming from the underground press, I directed from August 1944 a newspaper born in the very middle of the rising in Paris, «Le Parisien libéré» I longed for contacts with foreign countries which had not been possible for some years. Travelling was still very difficult at that time. I made, however, many trips; I remade many contacts.


One thing that I can state is that, among so many young men whom I had got to know during the formative years, in these pre-war years which were so enriching for me, many were with us no longer. It was a hecatomb. Those whom I had met – I speak of those who were my friends – had also been, in their countries, resistants or had gone to London with their government in exile. In short, a whole generation having established ties in its multiple meetings saw these ties destroyed by fate. However, some still lived on and then there are memories.


I was then at the head of a great newspaper, and I was very actively interested in the Fédération Nationale de la Presse Française when in October 1947, UNESCO which had just been created, called on me as a member of a conference of experts on the freedom of information. I think that was a decisive factor, for I found myself, for the first time, systematically, with fellow workers coming from other countries. I questioned them on what happened in their newspapers, on their problems, on their professional organisations, and it is thus that I had the possibility of making a first few contacts through which was finally born the FIEJ.


The FIEJ was born of a dual initiative; on the one hand, from this French thinking shared with Albert Bayet, at that time president of the Fédération Nationale de la Presse Française after having been the president of the National Federation of the underground press, and on the other hand, from several of our Dutch friends who also wanted an international organisation of newspaper publishers to be formed. Or rather to be reformed. For, in fact, there had existed before the war an organisation called FIADEJ which had died with the events themselves. Something new could be re-born.


And so we met again in Amsterdam, in January 1948. We there formed a provisional committee of organisation of an international organisation to be created. Its president was quite naturally the senator Johan van de Kieft who became moreover, at the first congress, the effective president of the F I E J and I was nominated general secretary, being charged with giving effect to the arrangements which had been outlined. The programme also comprised the convening of a constitutive congress, which was held in Paris in June 1948.


To maintain the contacts and to make sure that this preparation took place in an international spirit and with the general agreement which was fitting, other meetings took place again in Paris, in March 1948, in Brussels, in May 1948. It must be added that at this time, during March and April 1948, the Conference of the United Nations on the freedom of information took place in Geneva. It was widely talked about; it did not achieve much. For my part, however, it was fundamental. I was an adviser with the French delegation, and that gave me the opportunity of multiplying the contacts which I had begun to make. Thus it was that in Geneva I met again, as members of their respective national delegations, Dr Karl Sartorius, Jacques Bourquin and Dr Frei, to mention first of all only the Swiss, Erwin Canham the president, at that time, of the American Association of Editors, H. Dikkers of the Netherlands, Niels Hasager of Denmark and many others. Thus, we gradually came to clearly specify the aims and the means of an action of this new organisation whose members, from the outset, were twelve in number.


I can still see myself on the terrace of a cafe in Geneva, before going into the United Nations, busy drawing up – I even had a glue pot on my table – the statutes of the FIEJ. These latter have been slightly revised here and there in the course of time. However, finally, all the enacting terms, the essential part, are those of the beginning.


The constitutive congress took place from 23 to 25th June 1948 in Paris. I think that what was done at the time was very important as, with Albert Bayet but especially with Gaston Gaudy, we wanted to create a style of Congress from the outset. It is very difficult, a congress. It must correspond to the nature of the people who are received; they must find therein both a rich enough material and problems to be dealt with. Since it is a question of newspaper publishers, they must have contacts with political personalities and the possibility of being received in conditions which are not habitual. Thus, during the first Congress in Paris, in fact, in the UNESCO building, we were received at the Presidency of the Republic by President Vincent Auriol and at the Town Hall of Paris by President Pierre de Gaulle; we visited the Château of Versailles, and the fountains played just for us. That is to say that there was at once an atmosphere of good company, of a certain luxury together with very real quality.


So the FIEJ had got started and was off the ground, and from then on it had its Executive Committee meeting each winter, its congress each summer. I am not going to give the historical account which you will easily find elsewhere.


I will, however, emphasize that the second Congress, which took place in 1949 in Amsterdam, is important in two respects. First of all, because the representation of the USA, so important for the FIEJ, had been secured through circumstances and encounters at UNESCO, by the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE). I had had no contacts with the American Newspaper Publisher Association (ANPA). In Amsterdam there arrived for the first time Paul Miller, who represented both ASNE and ANPA. This was very important: the situation clarified itself afterwards until, in fact, quite naturally, ANPA alone represented the publishers of American newspapers at the FIEJ.


At the same time, independently of all the reports on newsprint, on cost prices and selling prices, printing conditions and other subjects of the same type which preoccupied us all, but on which, it must be said, each in his own country did not yet have for the time being any element of comparison – all that may be learned from others is, therefore, precious – we listened to an exposition which was to open up the world to us. It was that of van Wagtendonk, one of our Dutch friends, who spoke about the modern methods of printing and composition. We then understood that no revolution had taken place during these years when we had been cut off from the outside industrial and technical world, but that everything was on the brink of happening. I think that what we were told about studies, research, schemes then in progress in the USA was for us fundamental.


As early as 1950, newspaper publishers of Federal Germany and Austria sought to join the FIEJ. This also was a very important event. I was so important that to show that our newspaper publisher friends of these two countries were welcome as brothers into the great family of the FIEJ, we decided, with President van de Kieft and in company with Jules Burton, at the time general treasurer, to make, all three in my car, a trip through Germany and Austria to make contact in Bonn, in Munich, in Innsbruck or in Vienna with the newspaper publishers of both countries. You see, there was in our minds a concern for a personal contact which is in addition to the purely professional or administrative contacts.


We met again for example in Munich, as director of the Land’s organisation of newspaper publishers, Philip Riederle who soon became one of the leaders of the national organisation of newspaper publishers, the Bundesverband. But we were also received in Bonn by the President of the Republic Theodor Reuss. It was our colleague Emil Gross who presided over the Bundesverband and who was himself a member of a Resistance movement in his own country who received us. The link-up with the FIEJ was instantly achieved; a new state of mind, unquestionably, animated us all and we thus wished to work positively, usefully, without barriers, without frontiers, without aprioris, in a very great friendly and professional brotherhood.


There soon took place two events. I find, with the passage of time, that it was rather miraculous that they happened so quickly, but the FIEJ was itself very quickly installed as a representative organisation; we obtained the consultative status with UNESCO as early as September 1949, with the United Nations as early as March 1950. That, and I am, anticipating somewhat, allowed us to take action at the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations in the case of «La Prensa» in 1951 and we were able, from 1952, to play a role in drawing the attention of the United Nations and the whole of the free world to the shortage of newsprint which resulted partially from the Korean War and which was a very weighty unbalancing element in our European business concerns. What was the interest, the advantage of taking action in the case of «La Prensa» of Buenos Aires? Well, at the time the consultative status gave to the non-governmental organisations the possibility of appearing in the debates of ECOSOC and of filing complaints when a country had not respected international laws, and in particular, those which concerned us directly, which deal with the freedom of the press. We thus made our voice heard. It was necessary for the United Nations Organisation to get rid of this bell that we had hung around its neck, to modify its internal regulations; henceforth, one was only able to take action under very different conditions, infinitely less spectacular. Nevertheless, finally «La Prensa» returned to its rightful owners. In any case, at the time when the FIEJ was just beginning to act, we had taken our place, marked our importance and caused freedom to be defended.


During the whole of this period, the president of the FIEJ was senator J. Johan van de Kieft, a very remarkable man with a great distinction in his thinking, of wide culture, always precise, objective and seeing events in perspective.


In September 1952, this senator, director of a great Dutch socialist newspaper, became Minister of Finance and we had to change the president. However, I had the satisfaction of having him presented with the Cross of Chevalier of the Legion of Honour while he was president of the FIEJ. His successor, the Briton Curtis-Wilson, was for two years a very good president, who had this characteristic of being blinded in the war and who controlled the debates as he controlled his newspaper, by listening though not being able to read himself. He lost his sight during a battle on French soil, and it was my own Cross of Chevalier of the Legion of Honour which was, one fine day in 1951, pinned on him by the French ambassador in London, in acknowledgement of his attachment to all causes involving honour and freedom.


The third president incidentally, Tomaso Astarita, who was for a longer time and closer to present days at the head of the FIEJ and whose qualities of culture, good taste, attention, and intelligence are remembered very well by everyone, also received the Cross of the Legion of Honour during a meeting of the Executive Committee, organised by the Fédération de la Presse Française, which the FIEJ held in November 1955 in Algiers.


This Committee meeting in November 1955 marks for me a considerable change. If there are still colleagues who took part in these meetings and have not forgotten them, they may remember that, for the first time, a frail young woman was attached to the French delegation and accompanied me. Whereas up to then I had been considered by everybody as a glutton for work, a man who gave all his time, all his energies to the FIEJ, but who did not laugh much, was not very light-hearted, was not very merry, all of a sudden, thanks to this young woman who had just published a book entitled « I am 15 and do not want to die», I was transformed, and the FIEJ itself took on for me other colours. I am speaking of Christine Arnothy, the writer, who is at the same time Madame Claude Bellanger, my wife. We were not yet married at the time, but our existence for the one and the other was… mine in any case… miraculously transformed.


I must say that the life of the FIEJ at this period was not so easy. To create an international organisation enthusiasm, at least membership, is something relatively easily obtained, but the difficulties are much greater when it comes to finding funds. The same problem was posed for the FIEJ as for any other institution. I well remember one evening when one of our Scandinavian friends now disappeared from our midst, Orla Rode, a man older than all of us, visited my newspaper. We were dining, and he asked me some questions about the life of the FIEJ:

«Who looks after the files? -Me.

Who organises the meetings? -It is me.

Who draws up the reports of the meetings? – Me.

And who prepares the bulletins? -It is me.

Who have ideas? -It is me …


It is evident that that does not minimise the role of the other members of the committee; each contributes his share; the federations contribute much. A nerve centre must however exist, and the questions which were put by Orla Rode show very well that things depended practically on a single man, aided by his secretariat, by the funds of the newspaper, by from time to time my young brother who just gave me a hand with the «Bulletin» in particular, but that there was practically no outside assistance and no administrative institution capable of running the whole business.


I told him once more how necessary it was to modify that, but that for the moment the essential thing was still to live with this lack of means and life was better than death. I think that it was following this conversation that a movement was created in the different national organisations. The Scandinavian countries were in this respect very useful, because they are very pragmatic, whereas in our Latin countries we are more accustomed to saying: « Since it is working, it can continue.»


From then on, we began to understand that it was indispensable to systematically organise the international federation. The budget could be increased. Michel L. de Saint-Pierre was not the first collaborator – there was first of all one who had not all the qualities required and who did not stay, Michel L. de Saint-Pierre then arrived, and it was with him that we were able to begin to create, to develop, to endow with life, to go further forward. This is, it seems, fundamental for the whole life of the FIEJ which corresponds to the creation of the « Golden Pen of Freedom» in 1961, to the technical conferences held in Paris from November 1962, replaced later, in 1973, by marketing conferences. The CAEJ itself has existed since 1961. The IFRA and many institutions born of, within, or around the FIEJ have been able to see the light and to develop only because there was finally this minimum framework without which no organisation can live. When I think that I can still see myself in the clinic where my wife had just given birth to our child, opposite her bed where she was quite beautiful with our child, busy writing the report of a Congress of the FIEJ! This was not absolutely normal, all the more since I continued to direct, of course, very completely and very actively, my own newspaper.


During these latter years, the operation of truth which I have systematically conducted with Michel L. de Saint-Pierre has consisted, gradually in the course of time, to remove certain expenses assumed by my own newspaper and to put them back in the budget of the FIEJ so that we have a real budget, without depending any m re on the good-will of others. This has been done so that everyone realises that the FIEJ must have its budget, must have its organisation, must have its charges without which it was impossible for it to live really.


As I have already said, it is no matter here of re-making the historical account of the FIEJ. It should, however, be pointed out what an extraordinary experience it has represented in its succession of Executive Committee meetings and Congresses. I think that we have officially sat in all the historical shrines of the free world. We have sat in the most ancient Parliament chambers, in the most ancient universities, in the most illustrious historical places. Everywhere the national organisations of newspaper publishers have obtained for the FIEJ the most lavish welcome, I will say, by the symbol that these historical places represented, the highest and most representative welcome.


At the same time, very particular contacts always have been made. I speak not only of contacts with colleagues as I do not think it necessary to mention any of them here or to make an honours list. It seems to me that, finally, I know or have known during these thirty years all who count in the press of the free world.


However, let us take the crowned heads, the Presidents of Republics, Heads of State, Prime Ministers. On each occasion, the national organisations of newspaper publishers have succeeded in arranging it so that we were received whether by the Imperial Prince at Kyoto in 1968, by King Baudouin and Queen Fabiola in 1972, by the Queen of Denmark in 1974, by the Presidents of such and such Republics, in Austria, for example, Chancellor Raab, in 1953, or again Chancellor Kreisky in such other year.


At the same time, contacts have also been sought and our colleagues said to us: « You will see such and such a personality, he is a man of the future, he is a man who has not yet taken his rightful place in the political life of the country, but he is to be followed, and the contact which you will make may interest you ». It happened thus in 1963, in London, with Edward Heath who was by then only Lord of the Privy Seal but of whom we were told: «He will one day be our Prime Minister».


It is also what happened at a very moving Congress in Berlin in 1956 when we were received with the president of the Bundesverband, Dr. Hugo Stenzel, by the President of the Republic, Theodor Heuss, when we were told: «.Take careful notice, the president of the Chamber of Deputies of Berlin, Dr. Willy Brandt, is one of the great men of tomorrow in the Federal Republic ». Contacts made, conversations opened have effectively a great value, for new men in particular. Nothing is better than having seen things and men on the spot, for then better understanding the situation.


We had as I have just said, the Congress of Berlin. This is a great memory, with the bell of freedom and all that was symbolical in this city of the struggle for the defense of the freedom of the world. Another Congress was quite extraordinary, and it must be given a place apart in the annals of the FIEJ; it is the Congress of 1967 at Tel Aviv. We had to hold our congress in June 1967 and the very day when the inaugural session was scheduled the Six-Day war broke out. It was necessary, in the two weeks which preceded the opening of hostilities, to decide on postponing the congress. The inaugural session took place then in September at the Knesset in Jerusalem. We saw the war still quite hot and this victorious people, full of anxieties as also of assurance for the morrow, who received us with warmth and brotherhood. The very extensive contacts which we made at that time, which I personally made with the President of the Israeli State, Zalman Shazar, or with the Prime Minister, now departed from us, Levi Eshkol, are among those, I assure you, which cannot be forgotten.


There is also, in these memories, a reception at the White House in Washington. But I will recall more particularly a conversation, with a few people, at a reception in the Chancellery of Bonn, the home of Chancellor Adenauer, where we discussed world problems and problems concerning the construction of Europe. I remember very well leaving arm in arm with Chancellor Adenauer, after coffee, walking through the alleys of his garden bordered with box trees and explaining to him that the construction of Europe was not being achieved, that the great French-German reconciliation was not quite succeeding in coming to pass but that all that would be reached with General de Gaulle, that it was he who would bring about the final great French-German reconciliation. It must be recognised that history was very rapidly to bring proof of this.


There is a batch of memories, a good armful, but there were to be many others. The.FIE], for a great number of those who have taken part in its congresses, ‘is also the joy of the cruise of the Congress of 1957, which, very picturesquely set out from Naples to Venice on a very fine Italian cruiser. For others, it may be the voyage after the Congress of Istanbul on board a steamer which carried on its sides in large letters the splendid initials FIEJ and which allowed us to go almost completely right round Asia Minor with the unforgettable visit to Ephesus. For still others, it is the aspects which I recalled earlier; a Congress must both provide something useful through its contents and be an opportunity for encounters.


This being said, it seems to me that one of the fundamental characteristics of the FIEJ, looked at from the human point of view, is the possibility which it has always offered to every one of finding friends, companions, colleagues with whom it was pleasant to find oneself again year after year, whom it was always possible to consult also over the months when required. Personally,


I have deep gratitude for all those who have always been so trusting, so fraternal, so full of attention during all these years. I think that the most enriching thing that I am left with is this possibility of having known exceptional beings with whom, faced with incessantly renewed problems, I finally felt myself always in agreement.


This is true of many of those who are members of the present Executive committee; this is true for some of those who have left it. Within the committee, I will say for example that Wim van Norden has been one of those with whom I have always got on exceptionally well. Because we had the same starting point – which was the press – each in his own country, because we each had the responsibility of a press concern, because we both had preoccupations doubtless greater than those of daily life and because we felt that faced with many difficulties which had to be resolved or overcome, we posed the questions in terms of conscience.


International life, that which I recalled at the beginning …

I think that we cannot lead a valid life in this world unless we have contacts with the world. There is no valid professional life, at whatever level it may be, if we have not taken part in professional life from the point of view of neighbouring countries, from the point of view of the countries of the world which share the same difficulties, the same work, and which may even have different ways of looking at things. We must find out, know, draw closer together, study, compare.

That is a great lesson. It seems to me that more and more, present generations understand this. What was perhaps rather adventurous in my young days, which had not yet made much impact on customs, is now much more frequent. People travel more readily and so much the better.


The future of the press is this willingness which everyone will have of maintaining the freedom of the press. It is also to be found in this opening of the mind which makes men instead of being in blinkers, have their eyes fixed on the world as a whole, try to understand it and try first of all to understand each other.”


Claude Bellanger, President FIEJ (Published In FIEJ-Bulletin, 1978)


Claude Bellanger (1910-1978), served first as General Secretary of the International Federation of Newspaper Publishers (FIEJ) since its foundation in 1948, before being elected President from 1962 to 1978. Underground animator of the paper’s founding team, Claude Bellanger has been Managing Director of the « Parisien Libéré » since its founda­tion in August 1944, then its President from January 1977.




WAN alongside IFRA


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We owe to Claude Bellanger what brings us together today (2018)


The aims and functions of INCA (Newspaper Production Journal, 1961)