June 7, 2016

French news channel’s journalists shocked by advertorial plan

iTélé TV studio/ Crédit AFP

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns plans by the management of the French 24-hour TV news channel iTélé to make its journalists produce advertorials – which would not be clearly identified as such – in order to attract more advertising.

The staff are currently voting on a union motion that they should oppose this unprecedented plan, as well as the management’s plans for drastic cuts. Voting began yesterday and will continue all week.

The plans were unveiled at a tense meeting on 1 June between iTélé’s new CEO, Serge Nedjar (a close associate of billionaire businessman Vincent Bolloré), and the head of the Association of Journalists (SDJ) at iTélé, Olivier Ravanello.

“Mentalities will have to change” because iTélé can no longer earn enough from traditional advertising, Nedjar said, adding that the news channel would have to “participate in more partnership operations.” When Ravanello questioned the ethics of these new directives, Nedjar replied: “There is nothing to discuss because you will do what you’re told.”

These quotes and other details of the meeting are contained in a letter that the SDJ sent to iTélé’s journalists. RSF has obtained a copy.

Nedjar clearly wants to make space for programmes funded by brand advertisers and to get corporate sponsorship for certain stories. This violates the principles of ethical journalism, under which reporting and editorial content must be clearly distinguishable from advertising.

“We deplore such practices, which run counter to the principles that are spelled out very clearly in the Munich Charter for journalists,” said Pauline Adès-Mével, the head of RSF’s EU-Balkans desk.

“The charter states without any ambiguity that journalists must never confuse their profession ‘with that of advertisements salesmen or propagandists.’ We strongly condemn any attempt to stray from this principle. The truth and accurate reporting of the facts cannot be contingent on business interests. The reliability of the media and journalistic credibility are at stake.”

France is ranked 45th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.