French public radio news strike digs in

10th February 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Feb 10 (AFP) - French state media was in crisis Tuesday as a strike by radio journalists entered its third week and staff at the main television news programme protested over a spectacular blunder that has badly undermined credibility.

PARIS, Feb 10 (AFP) - French state media was in crisis Tuesday as a strike by radio journalists entered its third week and staff at the main television news programme protested over a spectacular blunder that has badly undermined credibility.

For a 15th day broadcasters at the 50 stations in the public radio service refused to work in a campaign to have their salaries realigned with the state television sector.

The 24-hour news channel France Info and the talk station France Inter, which together make up 20 percent of the radio market, once again put out music interspersed by occasional bulletins from non-strikers. Also badly hit were the 42 branches of the regional France Bleu network.

Radio France Internationale (RFI), which broadcasts around the world in 20 languages, was expected to be badly disrupted from late Tuesday after journalists there voted to join the action.

Unions representing the 600 journalists accuse the management of Radio France and Culture Minister Jean-Jacques Aillagon of breaking a long-standing arrangement linking the pay of radio and television journalists - with the result that there is now a 20 percent differential.

However, director-general Francois Desnoyers said Tuesday that any salary increase would have to be granted to the whole of the worforce - including 4,000 non-journalistic staff - and that would drive the organisation into bankruptcy.

"The best way to defend public service is not to weaken it but to guarantee a good audience and sound management. Striking journalists must understand the state of public finances," he said.

The strike, which many fear will drive listeners towards the proliferating commercial sector, coincided with a journalistic disaster at Radio France's sister organisation France Television as a result of a misreading of last week's major political story.

In an eagerly-awaited interview Tuesday on the private TF1 channel, former prime minister Alain Juppe told viewers that he had decided to stay in politics after his conviction for party corruption four days earlier - confounding predictions that he would step down.

Instead of waiting for Juppe's decision, the evening news programme on state-owned France 2 - broadcast simultaneously - gambled on a big story and reported that the protege of President Jacques Chirac was to leave public life. Only as the programme ended did the editorial team realise their gaffe.

Journalists at France 2 were Tuesday casting votes in a motion of no-confidence in newscaster David Pujadas and editorial director Olivier Mazerolle amid accusations that the pair have taken over the evening news with an obsessional desire to outdo their rivals at TF1.

Both Pujadas and Mazerolle have apologised for the blunder, describing it as an "error of interpretation," but critics said their report was based on guesswork and a betrayal of basic journalistic values.

Linking both affairs was what the left-wing newspaper Liberation described as a climate of malaise in public broadcasting: "the feeling of being clearly in the firing-line of the government. For public sector journalists ... Aillagon is not their minister in charge - he is Mister No."

Radio France and France Television are funded by a mix of licence fee, state subsidy and advertising, and journalists at both organisations fear that the centre-right government will allow finances to deteriorate to the point where they must be privatised.

© AFP

                                                              Subject: France news

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