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Albert Londres

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Albert Londres (1884 - 1932) was a French journalist and writer. One of the inventors of investigative journalism, he criticized the abuses of colonialism such as forced labour in some of his articles. Albert Londres gave his name to a famous journalism prize for French journalists.

[edit] Biography

Londres was born in Vichy in 1884, and studied in Lyon. He moved to Paris in 1903. In 1906 he began his journalistic career as the parliamentary correspondent for Matin. His job was to listen to the gossip in the corridors of the French parliament and report it in his anonymous columns. When war broke out in 1914, Londres, declared unfit for military service due to ill health and a weak constitution, became the military correspondent for the newspaper at the Ministry of War. Subsequently made war correspondent, he was sent to Reims during its bombing, alongside the photographer Moreau. Londres' first big article told of the fire in the cathedral on 19 September 1914; the report was published two days later.

Londres wanted to go to the Orient; the editors of Matin refused. So he left to become a foreign affairs reporter for one of the most read newpapers in France - Le Petit Journal. In 1915 he went to south-east Europe to report on combat in Serbia, Greece, Turkey and Albania. Moving from front to front, he saw, observed and reported. On his return, he covered the end of the war in France. In 1919 he was sacked by Le Petit Journal under the direct orders of the French Prime Minister Clemenceau. Continuing to follow his vocation, Londres reported that "the Italians are very unhappy with the peace conditions concocted by Clemenceau, Lloyd George and Wilson." He then worked for the illustrated daily Excelsior which had sought him out. In 1920, Londres succeeded in entering the USSR, described the nascent Bolshevik regime, profiled Lenin and Trotsky and told of the suffering of the Russian people. He was not comfortable with the situation. "Albert Londres was stunned. Sickened by what he had discovered. This was no bourgeois propaganda but rather brainwashing driven home by the Russian papers".

In 1922 he went to Asia. He reported to his newspaper about Japan and the "madness of China". He also covered the actions of Nehru, Gandhi and Tagore in India. From 1922 his fame did not stop growing and his articles began to be published in the form of books by Albin Michel through Henri Béraud, another great reporter who had become the literary editor of Le Petit Parisien. Londres started investigating stories for Le Petit Parisien.

In 1923, he went to the penal colony of Cayenne in Guyana. Describing the horrors he saw, his reports produced strong reactions both in public opinion and the heart of the French Establishment.

It must be said that we in France have erred. When someone - sometimes with our knowledge - is sent into forced labour, we say "He has gone to Cayenne". The penal colony is no longer at Cayenne, but at Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni first of all and later at the Îles du Salut. I ask, by the way, that these isles be debaptised, for they are not the Isles of Salvation, but the Isles of Punishment. The law allows us to behead murderers, not to employ them. Cayenne is nevertheless the capital of the penal colony. (...) Finally, I arrived at the camp. The labour camp. Not a machine for producing well defined, regulated, uniform punishment. A factory churning out misery without rhyme or reason. One would search in vain for any mould to shape the prisoners. It crushes them, that's all, and the pieces go where they may.

(Au bagne, 1923)

And the article continued: "I was taken to these places. I was taken aback by the novelty of the fact. I had never before seen fifty men in a cage. [...] They were getting ready for night. The place was swarming with them. They were free from five in the evening until five in the morning - inside their cage."

Londres also denounced an often ignored fact - the "doubling". "When a man is sentenced to five to seven years forced labour, once the sentence is completed, he must stay in Guyana for the same number of years. If the sentence is more than seven years, he must stay there for the rest of his life. How many jurors know that? The penal colony starts with freedom. During their sentence they are fed (badly), they are housed (badly), they are clothed (badly). A brilliant minimum when one considers what happens afterwards. Their five to seven years complete, they are shown the door, and that's it."

His book was a gallery of portraits - prisoners are people too! - even if they tend to become animals in that place. In 1924 he continued his investigation into forced labour in North Africa, where military prisons welcomed convicts of courts-martial who hadn't finished atoning for their great crimes. (Dante n'avait rien vu (Dante hadn't seen anything) )

He then became interested in the Tour de France, which he saw as a pitiless and intolerable physical exertion demanded of the cyclists in this "Tour of Suffering", and criticised the stupidity of the rules. (Les Forçats de la route (The convicts of the road) and Tour de France, tour de souffrance (Tour de France, Tour of Suffering))

His next topic of investigation was the lunatic asylum. He exposed awful treatments, abuse of antipsychotics, sanitary and nutritional incompetence, and reminded his readers that "Our duty is not to rid ourselves of the mad, but to rid the mad of their madness." (Chez les fous (With the Mad))

In 1928, still with the Petit Parisien, he travelled to Senegal and Congo, and discovered that railway construction and the intolerable exploitation of the forests was causing a terrible number of deaths among the African workers. "They are the negroes of the negroes. The masters no longer have the right to sell them. Instead they simply exchange them. Above all they make them have sons. The slave is no longer bought, he is born." He concluded with a diatribe against colonisation, which he held responsible for these crimes. (Terre d'ébène (Land of Ebony) )

In 1929, while anti-Semitism was rife in Europe, he went to Palestine. He met the Jewish community and came face to dace with an outcast people. He declared himself in favour of the creation of a Jewish state, but seriously doubted the possibility of peace between the Jews and the Arabs. "The demographic imbalance presages difficult days ahead: 700,000 Arabs versus 150,000 Jews" (Le Juif errant est arrivé (The Wandering Jew has come home))

He next went to the Balkans to investigate the terrorist actions of the Komitadjis, ethnic Macedonian nationalists protesting about the alleged division of their land between Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia. (Les Comitadjis)

This was to be his last completed report. He was killed in the fire on the Georges Phillipar. the ocean liner that was taking him from China back to France. He seemed to have uncovered a great scandal - "It was a matter of drugs, arms, of Bolshevik interference in Chinese affairs" reported Pierre Assouline's biography of Londres. But his notes were destroyed in the fire. Questions surround the fire - accident or attack? Even so, the only people to whom he confided the contents of his report - the couple Lang-Villar - died in a plane crash.

[edit] Albert Londres award

[edit] Bibliography

  • Walter Redfern, Writing on the move : Albert Londres and investigative journalism, - Oxford ; Bern ; Berlin ; Brussels ; Frankfurt am Main ; New York ; Wien : Lang, 2004
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