Posted on November 11, 2005

French TV Boss Admits Censoring Riot Coverage

Claire Cozens, Guardian (London), Nov. 10

One of France’s leading TV news executives has admitted censoring his coverage of the riots in the country for fear of encouraging support for far-right politicians.

Jean-Claude Dassier, the director general of the rolling news service LCI, said the prominence given to the rioters on international news networks had been “excessive” and could even be fanning the flames of the violence.

Mr Dassier said his own channel, which is owned by the private broadcaster TF1, recently decided not to show footage of burning cars.

“Politics in France is heading to the right and I don’t want rightwing politicians back in second, or even first place because we showed burning cars on television,” Mr Dassier told an audience of broadcasters at the News Xchange conference in Amsterdam today.

“Having satellites trained on towns across France 24 hours a day showing the violence would have been wrong and totally disproportionate . . . Journalism is not simply a matter of switching on the cameras and letting them roll. You have to think about what you’re broadcasting,” he said.

Mr Dassier denied he was guilty of “complicity” with the French authorities, which this week invoked an extraordinary state-of-emergency law passed during the country’s war with Algeria 50 years ago.

But he admitted his decision was partly motivated by a desire to avoid encouraging the resurgence of extreme rightwing views in France.

French broadcasters have faced criticism for their lack of coverage of the country’s worst civil unrest in decades. Public television station France 3 has stopped broadcasting the numbers of torched cars while other TV stations are considering following suit.

“Do we send teams of journalists because cars are burning, or are the cars burning because we sent teams of journalists?” asked Patrick Lecocq, editor-in-chief of France 2.

Rival news organisations today questioned the French broadcasters’ decision to temper coverage of the riots.

John Ryley, the executive editor of Sky News, said his channel would have handled a similar story in Britain very differently.

“We would have been all over it like a cheap suit. We would have monstered the story, and I didn’t get the impression that happened in France,” he said.

ESSONNE, France — Government-ordered curfews imposed on France’s troubled suburbs might have eased the storm of rioting that blazed through the country for 13 consecutive nights, but police who regularly patrol the country’s troubled suburbs said the cause of the violence is far from extinguished.

“Yes, the framework of the curfew law is broad enough to allow us to maybe stamp out the rioting,” said Jean-Christophe Carme, head of the Action Police trade union. “But enforcing measures that simply involve increased security does not solve the problem. The rioters were controlled by criminal gangs operating out of ghettos. And these ghettos remain no-go zones that have completely seceded from the republic.”

Mr. Carme and his colleague Michel Thooris spoke to The Washington Times while patrolling the troubled region of Essonne, about 15 miles south of Paris. Stopping in front of a sprawling cluster of housing projects known as Les Tarterets, Mr. Thooris said it was one of the many ghettos that even police do not dare to enter.

“This is one of the most dangerous and violent housing projects in France,” he said. “It’s also a cradle of radical Islam, controlled by professional criminals involved in drug and weapons trafficking and who have links to al Qaeda. We cannot even stop here for long because they are always surveying the area for police, and if they see us, there will be serious trouble.”

As Mr. Thooris spoke, a car drove by slowly — twice. Mr. Thooris didn’t hang around to find out why.


“This is a classic ploy that’s been happening all week,” Mr. Carme said as he arrived on the scene while scanning the building’s rooftops for falling objects. “They set a fire, which brings in the firemen, and later, the police who always come as reinforcement. And when everyone is in place, they begin attacking, either shooting from the balconies and throwing rocks or other objects from the roof.”

Not wanting to provoke the building’s residents, Mr. Carme decided to leave the premises. On turning the corner, however, as feared, his car was pelted with rocks, hurled by a mob of youths on the street, apparently waiting for just such an opportunity.