Radio France: Day Long Music on All Stations as Mass Walkout Silences Normal Programming

Since last Thursday regular listeners to the six main stations of Radio France, (SEE UPDATE HERE) the state-owned French national broadcaster, might be forgiven for thinking that the annual (June 21) Fete de la Musique had come early.

Radio France websites announced programming disruption due to unlimited strike over threats to jobs

Radio France websites announced programming disruption due to unlimited strike over threats to jobs

For from morning to night the radio audience nationwide has been treated to an endless selection of light, classical, pop, folk, jazz and other music in place of regular programming virtually across the entire network.

Radio and journalists’ unions have called the workforce out on an “unlimited” strike in defence of their jobs and the future of the broadcaster, a spokesman told one of the intermittent news broadcasts permitted on the France Musique station Monday.

The unions fear job redundancies and other threatened major cuts after the broadcaster reported its first significant operating loss in a decade.

Radio France  2013 Turnover - 640.9 million euros

Radio France 2013 Turnover – 640.9 million euros

Among the issues are the ballooning costs of work begun in 2003 on updating and upgrading the prestigious Maison de la Radio — the “largest such building ever constructed in France” — and which dates from 1983 when it was designed for ORTF, the predecessor of Radio France.

According to Le Monde, these works were ordered in the wake of the 2001 New York Twin Towers terrorist attack after which French police advised the government that the safety of Maison de la Radio staff might be endangered by any similar attack as the building was not adequately fire-proofed.

Radio France the national broadcaster and its stable of stations

Radio France the national broadcaster and its stable of stations

The initial 2003 budget for the job was 176 million euro, which by Q1 2015 had ballooned to 584 million euro. All work is due for completion by 2017, Le Monde reported. By way of comparison the total Radio France budget for 2015 is 660 million euro.

Much of the work including restoration of the expensive and controversial rosewood paneling in the chairman’s office — 107 000 euros — was competed late in 2013.

Tensions have been running high since late last week when the satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaîné reported that among the vast overruns in the 14-year long refurbishment of Broadcasting House, the impressive roundhouse on the right bank of the Seine in western Paris, was a 105,000 euro bill (the figure varies between 105 and 107,000) for refurbishing the rosewood-panelled office of the recently-appointed chairman of the broadcasting authority, Mathieu Gallet. (In fairness to M. Gallet, the tender for this work was awarded and work begun, before he was appointed some 12 months ago).

Mathieu Gallet told Le Monde on Monday he sincerely apologised for the cost of the works which he admitted at a time of financial austerity and threatened job cuts, was inappropriate.

Earlier on Friday morning March 20 during lengthy but unfruitful talks with Radio France staff unions in Studio 104, the freshly-completed, sumptuously-appointed and acoustically-perfect broadcasting auditorium in Broadcasting House, M. Gallet readily agreed that yes “100 000 euros, is a lot of money”, referring to his office redecoration.

Critics attacking Radio France chairman Mathieu Gallet during a staff meeting Friday

Critics attacking Radio France chairman Mathieu Gallet during a staff meeting Friday

Here the architect of the office refurbishment project shows a reporter from Canal Plus around the office and justifies the costs because of the need to replace the exotic wood panelling in an office she described as “national heritage”.

See video report by Canal Plus – Mathieu Gallet, an office refitted for 100 000 euros:

At Radio France, the call for an indefinite period strike seems to have been heeded by its widely dispersed staff, according to Telerama. Far more widely than the previous week where mobilization, organised by three unions, had not won significant support from staff (except at France Bleu). This time, the unions — CGT, Unsa, Sud, F0 and CFDT succeeded and the strike has largely held and is now in its fifth straight day. At a press conference before the strike began, in the brand new Radio France auditorium, union reps detailed the reason for the strike: a fight against job-outsourcing, against reforms to production techniques, against the merger or outsourcing of the broadcaster’s own national orchestras, against a France Bleu syndication project, against organised insecurity, dismantling of public service broadcasting, loss of quality and brand identity given the “colossal size” of proposed budget cuts which unions claim will affect all areas.

But the subject that aroused most of their anger was the ongoing refurbishment of the Maison de la Radio. “It cannot be acceptable that this project is threatening the survival of Radio France as a broadcaster! ” protested Jean-Paul Quennesson, a spokesman for the Sud union, while representatives of CFDT, FO and SNRT denounced development projects for a new ‘monumental’ atrium geographically opposite the one just opened. The Canard Enchaîné report on the sumptuousness of works in Mathieu Gallet’s office merely threw more fuel on the fire. “Its costing 107,000 euros? That’s the price of the 50 microphones we are short of, or three jobs for cleaning ladies”, said one union rep.

France’s leading radio group Radio France runs seven channels ( France Inter ,France Info , France Culture , France Musique , FIP and Mouv ‘ ) and 44 local stations comprising its regional network  France Bleu. By 2013, Radio France had an audience of 13.5 million listeners across all its channels, while overall audience share reached 23.1%. The number of unique visits per month on average to all of its websites’ was 3.3 million in 2013, up 22.9% compared to 2012. Turnover in 2013 was 640.9 million euros, down 1.4% compared to 2012. This was mainly due to a  8.7 million euro cut in public funding.

The management and the striking workers representatives are due to meet again according to France Musique’s latest news bulletin, but “little progress” is expected by staff who say only “words” and “no concrete proposals” have been tabled by management.

The strike has angered some listeners but, perversely is cheering others at least at France Inter. Several of these tweeted (see below) their approval of the “brilliant” substitute play list they have been offered since scheduled programming was interrupted last Thursday.

France Inter fans who approve of the music:

Stay tuned. Your favourite station is at least letting you catch-up with some golden oldies while management and staff search for a solution to the stand-off . No word how long that will take however.

Story Ken Pottinger


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