PARIS: Two months after the jihadist attack in which staff at the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo were murdered, a split has emerged in the newsroom over the nearly 30 million euros received since the killings.
Eleven staff members have called for all employees to become equal shareholders in the magazine, setting them up for a battle with the current management.
Charlie Hebdo is currently 40 percent owned by the parents of Charb, the former director of the magazine who was killed in the January 7 attacks, 40 percent by cartoonist Riss, who is recovering in hospital from shoulder wounds and 20 percent by joint manager Eric Portheault.
But one of the Charlie Hebdo journalists, Laurent Leger, stunned the editorial conference on Wednesday by announcing the creation of a group to open talks on an equal division of the magazine’s capital.
The group includes Patrick Pelloux, a Charlie Hebdo columnist who provided one of the most powerful images from a Paris march against terrorism four days after the attacks when he fell sobbing into the arms of President Francois Hollande.
Until the attacks, Charlie Hebdo was teetering on the verge of bankruptcy and was selling only around 30,000 copies a week.
But a “survivors’ issue” published a week after the attacks flew off the shelves and ended up selling seven million copies.
In addition, the magazine was also inundated with donations as it became a symbol of free speech and the Twitter hashtag #jesuischarlie became known worldwide.
On January 7, two Islamist brothers stormed into the magazine’s central Paris offices, spraying bullets, saying they were taking revenge for Charlie Hebdo’s depiction of prophet Mohammed, seen as highly offensive by Muslims.
They then shot a policeman outside the offices, bringing the total death toll to 12.
The attack was the first wave in a series of killings to rock the French capital. Amedy Coulibaly shot dead a policewoman the day after and then killed four Jews in a kosher supermarket.
A lawyer representing the magazine’s management, who declined to be named, said: “All this money is doing more harm than good.”
“Riss is still in hospital. Charb’s share has been frozen by his heirs … it makes you think of a funeral when the relatives are bickering over grandma’s jewels on the way back from the cemetery,” the lawyer said.
“Our first thought has to be to get a paper out every Wednesday. Then we have tax issues to resolve, as donations are taxed at 60 percent,” he added.
“The donations are going to the victims’ families. The proceeds from the sales are going into the magazine’s coffers. They will be used to create a foundation, notably to teach freedom of expression in schools.”
Laurent Leger, who wrote a letter to management obtained by AFP, said that these were “internal discussions” at the weekly.
But he said in his letter that a more equal division of the funds would allow more “transparency”.
“The wider the control, the more decisions will be taken collectively and that’s better for everyone,” he wrote.
The initiative sparked a lively debate in the editorial conference.
One Charlie Hebdo staffer, who is not part of the group demanding equal shares, accused the others of “talking about (Charb’s) money when the maggots haven’t even finished eating him.”
“Charb’s share isn’t going to disappear if you’re worried about that. Riss isn’t going to leave with the till under his arm and Eric hasn’t opened a Swiss bank account,” said this staffer.