How a payslip taught France about their Transparency rights

Have you ever wondered what the Prime Minister’s payslip looks like? We’re not talking about how much he’s paid — that’s a matter of record — but the actual paper document.

Over in France,  Xavier Berne from the Alaveteli-based site Ma Dada has just created a bit of a stir by receiving Emmanuel Macron’s fiche de paie in response to an FOI request. This response set off extensive coverage in the French national media on how citizens can use their right to transparency.

Payslip of President Macron

Ma Dada were kind enough to talk us through what happened, and how it’s resulted in a better understanding of FOI across France. Developer Laurent Savaete sent us the picture you see at the top of this post, of the front cover of the national paper Libération, which he describes as France’s rough equivalent to The Guardian.

“Transparency was the front page story”, Laurent says, “which is highly unusual. The next four pages covered transparency, how everyone can use it, and profiles of four power users.” National TV also picked the topic up.

Just like here in the UK, Macron’s actual salary was already known. The scoop was in receiving the facsimile of the paper document, which came about because Laurent’s colleague Xavier sometimes sends out interesting FOI requests, “for educational purposes, to show that it is possible”.

Quite by accident, this one actually turned out to be a perfect piece of FOI promotion: because the content of the payslip was nothing new in itself, the media focused on the means by which it was obtained.

How it happened

WhatDoTheyKnow dreams of such amazing coverage, and we’re sure that Alaveteli projects around the world feel the same! So, how did it come about, and can other FOI projects replicate these conditions in their own countries?

Well, we can try, but Laurent reckons that it was broadly down to the planets aligning. As he explains it, “A journalist had been in touch around that time about something else; Xavier happened to mention he’d received the payslip, and she was interested in writing a story. 

“She is not a long time FOI user herself. To be honest, it was lucky timing — Xavier had just received the response, and the news cycle needed something to break up their coverage of Gaza and Ukraine.”

If there’s a lesson to come out of this, we think it might be: keep requesting interesting stuff, and keep talking to journalists.

A spike in new users 

Because Ma Dada knew the coverage was coming, they had time to put some safeguards in place to make sure the site could handle extra traffic. “We cranked the server up to the max to make sure everything kept running  — which worked across the swell in interest, but we wouldn’t be able to afford keeping it at that level longer term”.

The peak in visitors may have retreated now, but there’s been an undoubted uptick in usage. “We’ve been seeing a surge in registration for both standard and Pro accounts, and a definite increase on requests being made on Ma Dada for the last two weeks. 

“We had around 40,000 visitors on the day of story; and 15-20,000 the day after.”

Reaching the people

How do you know your media coverage has touched the nation? Well, Laurent was given a nice clear illustration: “The day after the paper came out, I was chatting with the owner of a bookshop in the south of France, and he asked what I do in life, so I said: ‘I work on a project in public transparency’, to which he replied, ‘Oh, they just talked about that on the radio this morning!’. 

“That radio segment was discussing our publication and mentioned Ma Dada. It was super cool to bump into someone who’d actually heard of us outside of our own dedicated circles.”

Very cool indeed! And now? Ma Dada are already thinking how they can replicate this great success. “We’re thinking about other documents we might request to get the same amount of publicity again in the future.”

Best of luck, Ma Dada! Your next story should be received by a more informed general public, thanks to that alignment of the planets.