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Strike at French news channel iTélé 'symbolic' of greater struggles in journalism

© Philippe Lopez, AFP | Staff of French news channel iTélé hold placards reading "I support iTélé" outside their offices on the western fringes of Paris on October 19, 2016

Text by Rachel HOLMAN

Latest update : 2016-10-19

An ongoing strike at French 24-hour news channel iTélé against the hiring of presenter Jean-Marc Morandini – who stands accused of sexually coercing minors – has come to represent a larger struggle over journalistic ethics and editorial independence.

Morandini – a radio and television presenter famous for his gregarious, if at times raunchy persona – was placed under formal investigation on September 23 for sexual coercion of minors, after a young man filed a complaint alleging he was made to strip naked at the star’s home during a private audition for a remake of the sexually-explicit teen drama “Ken Park” in 2009.

The month before, authorities opened a separate investigation into Morandini for “sexual harassment and illicit employment”, following revelations in French weekly magazine Les Inrockuptibles in July he had allegedly asked several actors between the ages of 19 and 25 to strip naked or masturbate as part of auditions for a new web series by his production company.

The scandal prompted French radio Europe 1 to announce it was suspending Morandini, who had worked at the station for more than a decade. It also led to widespread speculation that the presenter, who was in talks to host a new show examining the media on iTélé at the time, would be dropped from the programme.

But Vincent Bolloré, whose mass media conglomerate Vivendi owns a majority of iTélé’s parent company Canal+, has stood by Morandini, ignoring vocal opposition by journalists at the channel who questioned the ethics of hiring a man accused of sexual harassment and the coercion of minors.

Just last week, iTélé director Serge Nedjar defended Bolloré’s unilateral decision by reportedly telling concerned staff, “If you’re not happy, all you have to do is leave.”

The first episode of “Morandini Live” aired at 6pm local time on iTélé Monday, much to the outrage of many journalists at the channel, who went on strike to protest against the show. Following talks with the company’s management on Wednesday, iTélé staff voted overwhelmingly to extend the strike for a fourth consecutive day on Thursday.

“Our management makes choices sometimes to please the company’s stakeholders, that aren’t always ethical, such as putting someone on television who is under investigation, without waiting for the justice system to do its work,” one iTélé journalist, who asked to remain anonymous, told FRANCE 24. “Yes, he is innocent until proven guilty. But if the allegations are true, that means there are victims out there. It would be better to wait for the end of the investigation before putting him on air.”

‘Symbolic of threats facing journalism’

Many at iTélé also see Morandini’s hiring as emblematic of a greater struggle within the newsroom to maintain editorial independence. Since Bolloré gained control of the channel last year, it has undergone numerous changes, including plans to rebrand it as CNews (short for Canal+ News) on October 24.

But journalists striking outside of iTélé’s offices on Wednesday said they had been given no other information about how the channel will evolve as part of the rebranding, adding they feared Bolloré’s meddling and a drive to increase viewership could compromise their editorial independence.

“We are demanding a clear strategy, precisely, what is the future of iTélé…? The second thing we are demanding is the guarantee to work freely and independently of the interests of our owners. And the third thing we are demanding are clear ideas of the information we produce: Is it going to be entertainment? Is it going to be 24/7 news? We don’t know,” said Guillaume Auda, one of iTélé’s main reporters.

“I’m protesting today because I think that the fight we’re engaged in is a noble fight. It’s a dignified fight that concerns not only iTélé… but the entire profession,” he added.

Wednesday’s protest at iTélé drew a number supporters, including Benoît Hamon, a candidate in the country’s upcoming Socialist Party primaries, and Roselyne Bachelot, who served as health minister under former president Nicolas Sarkozy from 2007 until 2010. Journalists and employees from competing news stations and publications also turned out in a show of solidarity.

“What’s happening here is symbolic of the threats facing the profession,” explained Hélène Grégoire, a journalist at France’s TF1 television and secretary of the channel’s Society of Journalists (Société de Journalistes or SDJ), which is dedicated to protecting independence in journalism. “Everyone feels implicated because it can very well happen to any of us one day.”

Date created : 2016-10-19


    French news channel iTélé strikes over controversial presenter

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