Airwave Supremacy

2 minute read

How far will the French government go to get the European constitution confirmed in the May 29 referendum? The situation is getting increasingly tense: one poll result released last week showed 55% of those questioned opposing the constitution; another showed 53% voting no, even though a plurality thought that yes would win in the end.

Now President Jacques Chirac has been accused of trying to exercise improper control. After his terse exchanges with European Commission President José Manuel Barroso last month over a proposed directive to liberalize the European Union’s service sector, Barroso was suddenly disinvited from a scheduled April 21 appearance on 100 Minutes for Convincing, a political show on the state-owned France 2 network. Marc Tessier, president of France Télévisions, which runs France 2, denied reports that he’d retracted the invitation at the government’s request, saying he merely wanted to “avoid polemics.”

But Yves Loiseau, a France 2 journalist who represents employees on France Télévisions’ supervisory board, accuses Tessier of “changing political guests to comply with the powers that be.” Says Loiseau: “Maybe he represents the major stakeholder, but that doesn’t give him the right to meddle.” Barroso accepted the official explanation, but one aide suggested that the Commission President is not the real problem: “There has been an erosion of the feeling among the French of the country’s place in Europe. [Barroso] makes an easy scapegoat, but the problems are much deeper.”

Either way, Chirac’s will should be tested this week, when ex-Commissioner Frits Bolkestein, the original author of the services directive, will appear on another state-owned network, France 3. Never one to be outdone, Chirac hopes to limit the damage when he launches his own campaign for the referendum on Thursday. He will answer questions on the private TF1 network from a studio audience of 18- to 25-year-olds. If he can cool the yes camp’s sense of distress, the race could tighten.

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