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Where is AFP Headed? Paris General Assembly at 2:30 pm on Thursday

Tuesday 29 January 2013

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The following statement was issued on January 29, 2013 by the joint trade unions representing HQ-status staff at AFP (CGT-CFDT-FO-SNJ-SUD-CFE/CGC):

All around the agency, journalists as well as white- and blue-collar staff are asking the same question: Where exactly are we headed under present management?

Twenty years ago, there was a consensus on AFP’s role as a worldwide news agency, which was broadly to provide news for the media. And today? Nobody questions the need to rethink that role, but the process has to involve mobilising our skills around an authentic strategy based on AFP’s mission as a service of general economic interest. A strategy which has to be clearly explained by management, and hammered out via a broad debate with all staff.
The approach taken by the agency’s current management is exactly the opposite. It rams through questionable decisions without debate, maintains a climate of intimidation and hides its true aims behind a barrage of jargon.

Among issues coming to the boil:

Plans for a "France Region"

Management’s attempts to push through a complete reform of the production of news for and about AFP’s home country, via a phony consultation of the works committee, have backfired. Bizarre to say the least, the proposals include creating a new category of "national reporter", eliminating an entire layer of management in French regional bureaus, getting reporters in some bureaus to work from home and creating a new division of labour between "expert" journalists and general dogsbodies.

The underlying aim being to respond to the economic crisis that has seen many media clients demanding lower subscription rates by turning AFP into the media equivalent of a low-cost airline. An organisation that churns out ever-more flashy and superficial news, highly centralised and overseen by an editor in chief’s office with more and more authoritarian tendencies.

The elected members of the AFP works committee, along with all the HQ-status trade unions, have already published a motion demanding the withdrawal of the "France Region" plan. To date it has been signed by over 150 members of staff.

Future of the Africa news desk

Without the slightest consultation, management has begun a de facto restructuring of the Africa zone. If we all decide to let them get away with it, in a few weeks’ time there will no longer be a French-speaking Africa desk, while its English-language equivalent will be moving to Johannesburg, where there are plans for a new regional centre. No prizes for guessing that it will be staffed mainly by local-status hires.

Arguing the need for linguistic coherency, management began last year by attaching coverage of North Africa and its bureaus to Nicosia rather than Paris. Meanwhile it has been chipping away at staffing levels on the francophone Africa desk in Paris. Its latest move has been to refuse to replace the head of the Desk Afrique, who will be leaving his post in a few days’ time. Instead, management is asking the head of the Europe desk to oversee what will in effect be a "Desk Europe-Afrique".

In an appeal published on January 25th, the journalists of the Desk Afrique expressed their concern over this process. They note in particular that "the time chose by management to tell the desk ’we don’t know what your future will be’... with an unfolding war in Mali highlighting the importance of Africa coverage, is to say the least unsatisfactory."
The logic of outsourcing at work here will also apply to non-journalistic posts.

New Editorial Priorities

According to a new note from the editor in chief’s office, AFP must henceforth give priority to "visual" news. This not only turns the basic rules of a general interest news agency on their head; it is also contrary to the mission of "general economic interest" that the French parliament wrote into our statutes less than a year ago!

"We need to ensure the drama and colour of AFP’s photo and video production is reflected in our stories. We also need to be aware that often the image can become the story... and that we need to adapt our writing accordingly. Dramatic floods, fires or snowfalls, often accompanied by online slideshows and videos, can remain a top story even when the damage or loss of life is limited," the editor in chief writes.
In what forum, and by whom, has this "revolution" been debated?

Why is management riding roughshod over Article 2 of our statutes, which stipulates that "Agence France-Presse may under no circumstances take account of influences or considerations liable to compromise the exactitude or the objectivity of the information it provides."?

Does AFP management even know what it is doing?

These recent developments at AFP bear the hallmarks of the same decisions that led to the absurd splitting-up of the agency’s Parisian services between the headquarters building on Place de la Bourse and the wholly unsuitable premises in rue Vivienne. Is it necessary to recall that in 2011, similar methods of management resulted in CEO Emmanuel Hoog, who was then promoting yet another plan to change AFP’s statutes, being hit by a censure motion adopted by a large majority of HQ status staff?

To discuss these threats, and the actions to be taken to counter an ever-more hypocritical and authoritarian management, the unions invite Paris-based staff of all categories to a

GENERAL ASSEMBLY

Thursday January 31 at 2:30 pm (1330 GMT), on the first floor of the Rue Vivienne premises

NB: The unions have already demanded an urgent meeting with the CEO, and protested by boycotting proposed talks with management on plans for new staff mobility rules.

Paris, Tuesday January 29, 2013