Strike heightens battle over future of French public radio
A fierce struggle pitting striking unions at French public radio and its cost-cutting young boss worsened Wednesday after the chief executive, Mathieu Gallet, vowed to see through a plan to axe 300 jobs.
"I still have four years of my mandate and during those four years I will not let up," said Gallet, an ambitious 38-year-old with the looks and smooth delivery of a TV host, who was appointed to the top post at Radio France a year ago.
His uncompromising performance to a parliamentary cultural commission set the scene for further digging-in by both sides in what is already Radio France's worst-ever labour dispute.
A subsequent meeting Gallet held with the broadcaster's employee representatives to explain his strategy was suspended when union figures walked out.
A visibly exasperated Culture Minister Fleur Pellerin told parliament: "This conflict has gone on for too long."
She promised "very rapidly" she would make known decisions to restore dialogue between Radio France's management and unions, but did not elaborate.
"The situation remains frozen," Pellerin said. "I will shoulder my responsibilities."
The strike at Radio France started March 19 and has gone on for an unprecedented three weeks with no end in sight.
Listeners used to tuning in to one of the public group's six radio stations can now hear only round-the-clock music interspersed with occasional and very brief news breaks by non-striking journalists.
- Poisonous relations -
Gallet did himself no favours in his poisonous relationship with the unions, which mostly cover the radio group's technicians, because of perceived self-aggrandisement.
Some union representatives have said they will have nothing more to do with him.
"We have arrived at the point of no return," the head of the CGT union, Philippe Martinez, told French television network Canal+, where Gallet worked from 2001 to 2006.
Gallet left Canal+ to become an advisor to the right-wing government of former president Nicolas Sarkozy.
In 2010, he was named as head of France's National Audiovisual Institute which manages the country's TV and radio archives. Four years later, the left-wing Socialist government appointed him boss of Radio France.
- Budget shortfall -
Gallet's plan calls for 300 jobs to be sliced from his group's 4,600-strong workforce, for webradio to take over from some of the more esoteric broadcasts, and the reduction in size of the group's two classical orchestras.
The aim is to fill a 21-million-euro shortfall in Radio France's budget. The group receives 664 million euros a year, 90 percent of it from a tax imposed on French households with a television.
"I am going to continue with this project," Gallet declared to the lawmakers Wednesday. He added that he believed that "the large majority" of Radio France employees backed his plan.
© 2015 AFP