Section Agence France-Presse du Syndicat national des journalistes
Agence France-Presse Branch of the French National Journalists' Union (SNJ)
News & Views
Yellow Card, Mr. President!
On Saturday May 30, at the start of a long holiday weekend in France, CEO Pierre Louette discreetly announced that he was hiring Frédéric Filloux as a "super-consultant".
The move is surprising, not to say incongruous and even scandalous.
It is being made at a time when increasing numbers of journalists on short-term contracts are finding life harder and harder. The compulsory fallow periods between their contracts are becoming longer and longer, and in many cases they are not even sure of being able to get any fresh work at all.
It is also being made at a time when the agency’s financial situation, weighed down by maneouvring by French regional media groups pressuring AFP to lower its rates, is obliging reporters and bureaus to work ever-longer hours, and leaves even copy-editing desks perpetually short-staffed.
The hiring of M. Filloux is also surprising given that he is both a consultant and a journalist (formerly of Libération, and the free newpaper "20 Minutes"). Here at AFP, however, we have more than 2,000 journalists, working under a variety of contract statuses. And when we inform management of the desperate situation in which many journalists on short-term contracts find themselves, they are continually telling us that "AFP cannot hire!"
So why this recruitment, which is being announced for six months? How much is it costing? How many short-term contracts could be signed for the same price?
The move is also incongruous, because up until now M. Filloux has never expressed any particular affection for AFP. That is putting it mildly, as a quick trawl on the Internet, and particularly on the various blogs that the gentleman frequents, will show.
A few examples, which show just how surprising M. Louette’s latest hiring decision really is:
In November 1999 M. Filloux wrote in the daily "Libération" that AFP’s journalists were "fossilised in their clan-based conservatism".
In February 2006, in his freesheet "20 Minutes" he referred to our journalists as "bitter members of an overstaffed editorial team letting venting their spleen in petty acts of resentment" - because they had failed to pick up some of the paper’s stories. http://filloux.20minutes-blogs.fr/a...
In March 2007 he was quoted as telling a media conference how, at "20 Minutes", "I spend my time saying that we have to get rid of our subscription to AFP, which is costing an absolute fortune". http://www.liberation.fr/medias/010...
More recently, M. Filloux told the French edition of Slate that he believed the current crisis in the public’s attitude to journalism was a result of the law on the 35-hour week in France! Quote: "Readers have started to find that quality was going down — which is hardly surprising since with 14 weeks of time off each year, a daily paper is missing out on the equivalent of one issue in three — the said readers have extracted a high price by turning away from their papers".
This stance makes M. Filloux’s hiring by M. Louette especially disgraceful. http://www.slate.fr/blog/4483/la-qu...
We could perhaps suggest that M. Filloux instead consider the quality of much current journalism, laced with complicity and bootlicking, not to speak of the unscrupulous careerism to be found among some members of the media élite, as a factor explaining the plunge in French readers’ and viewers’ confidence. But let’s not be controversial!
A further black spot on M. Filloux’s CV was his unflagging and highly vocal support for the last attempt to change AFP’s statutes, under CEO Eric Giuily. That wheeze was aimed at handing the agency over to Jean-Marie Messier’s Vivendi conglomerate, than at the height of its fame.
One shudders to think where we would all be today if the Giuily plan had gone through! AP and Reuters would now have ruled the roost unopposed.
But perhaps that is precisely the aim being pursued today, with the plan to turn AFP into a limited-liability company, to undermine our working conditions and other advantages. Perhaps that is what the hiring of yet another consultant, who has built his career on attacking both journalism and decent labour regulations, means!
In the past we have seen many consulting firms come and go through the glass doors of Place de la Bourse. Not many have served any useful purpose; many have caused damage. All of them have cost money. Is it all starting over again? There is already a legal team working for the Agency. What is the point of such provocations?
Looking on the bright side, the recruitment of M. Filloux will at least have served one useful purpose: to show that it is still possible to hire people at AFP.
The AFP branch of SNJ demands an end to the policy of indefinitely expanding the numbers of employees on short-term contracts - which is done to avoid any of them acquiring too many seniority rights. Those short-term employees who have chalked up the longest periods of work should be taken on again as soon as their fallow periods are up, and of course they should finally be given full status.
For whatever M. Filloux may think, labour precarity is one of the greatest threats hanging over journalism, turning professionals into ink-stained serfs. That, and not the 35-hour law, is the reason why readers turn away.
But perhaps that is what you want, Mr. President!
5 June 2009