Created in 2000 during the previous French Presidency of the Council of the European Union, the Foreign Press Centre (CAPE) moved into its new premises in one of the most prestigious buildings in Paris, the Grand Palais, on 1 October. A move in line with the new ambitions of the centre, which sees itself more than ever not only as a resource for the international press, but above all as a place of liberty and dialogue, open to an unrestricted exchange of the full spectrum of opinion, free from political, religious and ethnic considerations.
A non-bureaucratic organisation that is in the unusual position of being chaired by a journalist, but run by a diplomat, the CAPE’s main role is to welcome and offer guidance to foreign journalists arriving in France and assist them in their work by offering them access to fully equipped professional facilities. The centre organises a range of communications and information activities on national, European and international news both on its own initiative and in partnership with other organisations. As a result it has become a place where both French and foreign journalists can meet, exchange ideas and share information.
Since its creation, the CAPE has largely achieved the objectives set for it. Today it serves as a comfortable base for over 1,300 foreign journalists working in France, around 800 of whom are accredited with the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. For many international journalists, particularly the increasing number of freelancers, free access to computers and the Internet is a real public service, especially given the advice and guidance also on offer. Every day some forty journalists come to work at the CAPE, which has over 3,000 names on its list of French and foreign journalists.
Not only a reception centre for journalists, the CAPE has always seen its role as that of becoming a place of liberty and dialogue, open to an unrestricted exchange of the full spectrum of opinion, free from political, religious and ethnic considerations. This objective has been comfortably met, since in its eight years of existence the centre has organised over 2,000 press conferences involving almost 6,000 participants. The diversity of subjects on offer faithfully reflects the range of media coverage, with a high proportion of topics related to international news (particularly the Middle East, Africa and Asia). Other subjects that have been most frequently covered have been human rights, environmental protection, humanitarian aid and the freedom of the press.
Now that information is increasingly delivered in real time, press conferences, which last an hour and a half on average, have provided an opportunity not only to tackle a number of delicate topics in depth but also to engage in serious debate with an audience of journalists, who form by definition a cosmopolitan group. Despite its composition, with the French state holding a majority stake, the CAPE has been able to position itself as a place for free discussion, opening its doors to the full range of opinions, in particular groups that oppose the current regime in their own countries, as well as associations taking certain positions that differ from those of the French government.
The CAPE has hosted a number of the great names from international politics, including Mikhail Gorbachev, Hugo Chávez, Boutros Boutros Ghali, Ingrid Betancourt, Evo Morales and General Michel Aoun, as well as figures from the world of culture and sport. Several French ministers have also made use of the CAPE to set out their policies.
A promising future!
The CAPE’s ambitious plans for the future are being stated loud and clear with its magnificent new address at the Grand Palais, the "geometrical centre" of an area of Paris that is home to some of the main centres of power, major media organisations and numerous embassies. Its offices are located in the building’s south wing, along the Cours la Reine, facing the Alexandre III bridge. Journalists have access to an area of 500m2 over two floors, with a press room equipped with 24 computers on the garden floor and a huge welcoming area on the ground floor including a 60-seat conference room and a bar offering light snacks, all thoughtfully decorated. The centre’s flexible facilities will enable it to offer set formats such as press breakfasts and lunches as well as receptions and event organisation. In addition, the public corporation that runs the Grand Palais will give the CAPE access to an ultra-modern 100-seater auditorium on the first floor, which should soon be able to host increasing numbers of key national and international figures.
The CAPE is making the most of this new momentum to widen the scope of its activities. On an international level, the centre will be looking to increase the number of press conferences dealing with Europe, thanks in particular to the French presidency of the European Union, as well as with North and South America and the Maghreb. It should be possible to develop closer ties with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which is now very close by in geographical terms. The minister would like both embassies and senior officials in the central administration to be more widely heard outside their own organisations, so the CAPE will be a place where they can come and present the key elements of their initiatives to the international press. The economy, culture, security, health and sport are topics which will also be covered more extensively. The new variety of layouts in the different parts of the building should be of interest to ministries, press associations and companies for their communications events. The proximity of the Grande Nef, the galleries of the Grand Palais and the auditorium should finally offer an opportunity to develop synergies with the events, major exhibitions and film projects that take place there.
In addition, the CAPE has launched a new high-quality website (www.capefrance.com) with a large amount of audio and video content and a diary of press conferences. Increasing the number of visitors to the site, in particular by developing its range of links, is a top priority.
With new premises and new ambitions, the CAPE has provided itself with all the resources it needs to assert its role as an "information facilitator" and should have no trouble confirming its status as France’s leading organiser of non-specialist press conferences.
(Source : MAEE)