Costs may force Trib to leave France

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The Independent Online
The International Herald Tribune, which has been based in Paris since it was founded in 1887, is considering the possibility of leaving France on cost grounds, it emerged yesterday. The chief executive, Richard McClean, confirmed that a study had begun and that all options would be considered "with a totally open mind".

It was a question of ensuring the "long-term viability" of the paper. "It would be very sad to move from Paris," he said, but "France is a very expensive place to operate." He denied the future of the paper, which is jointly owned by the New York Times and Washington Post, was at risk, stressing that circulation had rise by 1.5 to 2 per cent over the past year and that revenue from advertising was higher than ever. The paper would open another one, and possibly two, printing sites in Asia in the coming year.

But printing in France was more expensive than at any of the other 11 sites around the world. The paper also has to comply with France's inflexible labour laws.

There is speculation also that changes to the paper over the past two years, which include an increase in the number of news pages, may not have brought the envisaged increase in circulation. Despite an expanded distribution network, especially in Asia, the potential for increasing sales elsewhere appears limited. In Europe there is keen competition from the Financial Times and Wall Street Journal, and higher sales inside the US would risk taking circulation from the New York Times and Washington Post.

No decision is expected before the New Year, and any move is unlikely to entail shutting down operations in Paris completely. Michael Getler, who took over as editor of the Herald Tribune this summer, told Agence- France Presse that one or more departments could be moved, while leaving some staff in place. Administration and editing, for instance, could be transferred, while the small number of reporters remained in France.

Some staff believe moving operations to the US, or to London, would diminish the paper's international "feel" at a time when the US media generally seem to be looking increasingly inward.

Mr McClean said yesterday, however, that any decision to move the base of operations would have no implications for the paper's editorial outlook, which would remain thoroughly international.

Even the suggestion that an institution as widely known and respected as the Herald Tribune might consider leaving Paris, or greatly scale down its operations, would have great symbolic significance in France.

It might even bring home to the French authorities - as the number of companies starting to relocate, including to Britain, appears not to have done - that the exceptionally high charges levied on employers in France are among the reasons why the unemployment rate - at 12.6 per cent - is one of the highest in the industrial world.

r France will be without many of its newspapers, radio and television news programmes today and tomorrow as journalists strike in protest against government plans to phase out a 30-per-cent tax advantage that they have enjoyed for more than 60 years.

The strike is timed to coincide with the presentation to parliament of the budget bill, which contains measures to simplify the tax system as part of a five-year fiscal reform.