Robert Hersant (30 January 1920 – 21 April 1996) was a French newspaper magnate with right-wing political views.
Initially involved with the Socialist Youth movement in 1935, Robert Hersant founded the rightist political party Jeune Front in the summer 1940. During that period, he became a friend of Jean-Marie Balestre. Jeune Front although a small group, was publishing the rabidly pro-Nazi newspaper Au Pilori. He left this movement in October 1940, to become a member of the secretariat general de la jeunesse of the Vichy Regime. In 1941-1942, he created a camp in Brévannes, named after the Marshall Philippe Pétain to indoctrinate young people in the Révolution nationale ideology. Although he managed to escape the first waves of the Épuration légale, he was arrested and jailed for one month in Fresnes on June 15, 1945. He was tried in 1947 and sentenced to 10 years of national indignity for collaboration with Nazi Germany. The court emphasized that Jeune Front had received support from the Nazis as early as August 1940 to justify that sentence. Due to this collaborationist past, satirical papers would misspell Hersant's name Herr Sant. In 1952, however, he benefited from the general amnesty.
His condemnation for collaborationism did not stop him from starting in the business of publishing. After launching a few unsuccessful publications, (Bazars et Galeries, l'Equipement Ménager, le Quincailler), in 1950, he started L'Auto-Journal, which met success due to the increasing popularity of automobiles. In October 1952, he bought la semaine de l'Oise and used it to launch his political career. In February 1953, he was elected mayor of Ravenel, Oise, and in January 1956 he ran for a deputy seat in the Assemblée Nationale as a radical candidate. He was elected with the support of French Section of the Workers' International (SFIO) and Democratic and Socialist Union of the Resistance (UDSR). However, on April 18, 1956 his election caused a heated debate at the Assemblée Nationale due to his collaborationist past. The Assemblée Nationale cancelled his election, but on October 25, 1956 he was reelected. As a deputy, Robert Hersant championed a reform of the constitution of 1946, altering the articles 45, 46, 47, 48 and 52. It would have permitted the direct election of the Président du Conseil, and would have obliged him to form his cabinet from personalities that did not belong to legislative bodies. He also advocated a partition of Algeria as a solution to the Algerian War. In 1958, Hersant became Gaullist. In 1967, he was elected as a socialist with the Federation of the Democratic and Socialist Left. He then became a conservative supporting Valéry Giscard d'Estaing. He remained a deputy until 1978. In 1984, he became a deputy in the European Parliament on the Rally for the Republic–Union for French Democracy (RPR/UDF) list led by Simone Veil. He remained a European Deputy until his death.
He gradually built his empire by buying or creating local or regional newspapers through his holding company Socpresse (and its associate France-Antilles). In 1957, he created Centre Presse and in 1964, France-Antilles. Robert Hersant also took control of various regional titles such as Le Courrier de l'Ouest, Nord Matin (bought in 1967), Paris Normandie (bought in 1972), Nord Eclair (bought in 1975, and merged with Nord Matin).
In 1975, he purchased from Jean Prouvost the great conservative newspaper le Figaro (with the help of Pierre Juillet and Marie-France Garaud, then adviser of Jacques Chirac), in 1976 the popular daily France-Soir, and in 1980 acquired "L'Aurore" from the estate of Marcel Boussac. At the time, it was alleged that the president Giscard d'Estaing had facilitated the obtaining of loans by Hersant in order to have the three Parisian newspapers (totalling 1.06 million in circulation) controlled by a political ally. In 1979, Hersant launched Le Figaro-Magazine, a weekly supplement of Le Figaro, headed by Louis Pauwels. In 1980, Le Figaro absorbed L'Aurore. In 1983, Hersant bought Le Dauphiné Libéré, in 1986, Le Progrès de Lyon and l'Union de Reims, and in 1987 Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes. As a result, in 1986, according to Daniel Singer, he was controlling 38% of the national press, and 26% of the regional press in France.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Hersant extended his activities to eastern Europe. In 1991, he bought Magyar Nemzet (Hungary), 51% of Rzeczpospolita (Poland), Tempo, Dziennik Baltycki, Dziennik Lodzki, Trybuna Slaska, Express Ilustrowany, Wieczor Wybrzeza, Dziennik Zachodni and Gazeta Krakowska. This large number of acquisitions gained him the nicknames of Citizen H and Le Papivore in the satirist Le Canard enchaîné.
Robert Hersant's group was, in 1996, employing 8,000 persons, and generating a revenue of 6 billion French francs.
List of papers owned by Robert Hersant in 1996
- Le Figaro
- le Progrès (Lyon)
- le Journal de Saône et Loire
- Le Bien public (Dijon)
- le Courrier de l'Ouest Angers
- le Dauphiné Libéré (Grenoble)
- Presse Océan (Nantes)
- l'Eclair (Nantes)
- Centre presse (Poitiers)
- le Maine libre (Le Mans)
- Le Havre presse
- Le Havre libre
- la Liberté du Morbihan
- l'Union (Reims)
- les Dernières Nouvelles d'Alsace
- L'Est Républicain
- l'Est éclair
- Libération Champagne (not to be confused with Libération)
- la Haute-Marne libérée
- France-Antilles Martinique
- France-Antilles Guadeloupe
- la Dépêche de Tahiti
- le Quotidien de la Réunion
- 42% of the capital of Le Soir
- One national daily, and one sports daily
- One national and four regional dailies
- two dailies
- Biography of Robert Hersant from 1920 to 1958
- Nord Matin, Nord Eclair, La Voix du Nord
- Dauphiné Libéré and Progrès de Lyon
- Robert Hersant and Socpresse
- Robert Hersant chronology
- Paul Lewis Robert Hersant The New York Times, April 23, 1996.
- Janice Castro The Man Who Would Be King TIME Magazine Monday, Dec. 22, 1980.
- Daniel Singer The Politics and the Pity The Nation, May 12, 1979.
- Chronology of the acquisition by Hersant
- Daniel Singer Handicapping the French Elections The Nation, March 15, 1986.
- Renaud Revel Les derniers bouclages de Robert Hersant L'Express, October 22, 1994.
- Marc Blachère La Mort du Magnat de la Presse Robert Hersant L'Humanité April 22, 1996.
- L'empire Hersant L'Humanité April 22, 1996.