Agence France-Presse (AFP) is a French news agency, the oldest one in the world, and one of the three largest with Associated Press andReuters. It is also the largest French news agency. Currently, its CEO is Emmanuel Hoog and its news director Philippe Massonnet. AFP is headquartered in Paris, with regional offices in Nicosia, Montevideo, Hong Kong, and Washington, D.C., and bureaus in 150 countries. It transmits news in French, English, Arabic, Spanish, German, and Portuguese.
The agency was founded in 1835 by a Parisian translator and advertising agent, Charles-Louis Havas as Agence Havas. Two of his employees, Paul Reuter and Bernhard Wolff, later set up rival news agencies in London and Berlin respectively, starting 1848. In order to reduce overheads and develop the lucrative advertising side of the business, Havas’s sons, who had succeeded him in 1852, signed agreements with Reuter and Wolff, giving each news agency an exclusive reporting zone in different parts of Europe. This arrangement lasted until the 1930s, when the invention of short-wave wirelessimproved and cut communications costs. To help Havas extend the scope of its reporting at a time of great international tension, the French government financed up to 47% of its investments.
In 1940, when German forces occupied France during the Second World War, the news agency was taken over by the authorities and renamed “Office Français d’Information” (French Information Office); only the private advertising company retained the name Havas. On August 20, 1944, as Allied forces moved on Paris, a group of journalists in the French Resistance seized the offices of the FIO and issued the first news dispatch from the liberated city under the name of Agence France-Presse.
Established as a state enterprise, AFP devoted the post-war years to developing its network of international correspondents. One of them was the first Western journalist to report the death of the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin on March 6, 1953. AFP was keen to shake off its semi-official status, and on January 10, 1957 the French Parliament passed a law establishing its independence. Since that date, the proportion of the agency’s revenues generated by subscriptions from government departments has steadily declined. Such subscriptions represented 115 million Euros in 2011.
In 1982, the agency began to decentralize its editorial decision-making by setting up the first of its five autonomous regional centres, in Hong Kong, then a British Crown colony. Each region has its own budget, administrative director and chief editor. In September 2007, the AFP Foundation was launched to promote higher standards of journalism worldwide. The mission of the AFP “… is’ ‘defined by its statutes: to report events, free of « all influences or considerations likely to impair the exactitude » of its news and « under no circumstances to pass under the legal or actual control of an ideological, political or economic group.”
In 1991, AFP set up a joint venture with Extel to create a financial news service, AFX News. It was sold in 2006 to Thomson Financial.
The Mitrokhin archive identified six agents and two confidential KGB contacts inside Agence France-Presse who were used in Soviet operations in France.
In October 2008, the Government of France announced moves to change AFP’s status, notably by bringing in outside investors. On November 27 of that year, the main trade unions represented in the company’s home base of France – the CGT, Force Ouvrière, Syndicat national des journalistes, Union syndicale des journalistes CFDT and SUD, launched an online petition to oppose what they saw as an attempt to privatise the agency.
On December 10, 2009, the French Culture Minister Frédéric Mitterrand announced that he was setting up a Committee of Experts under former AFP CEO Henri Pigeat to study plans for the agency’s future status. On February 24, 2010, Pierre Louette unexpectedly announced his intention to resign as CEO by the end of March, and move to a job with France Télécom.