Under pressure from President Jacques Chirac, the main French television channel, TF1, has appointed a black journalist as “substitute” presenter of the country’s most-watched news bulletin.
From July, Harry Roselmack, 32, will become the first non-white person to present a prime-time, mainstream television news programme on France’s most-watched channel, TF1.
During the rioting by multiracial suburban gangs of young people in November last year, French television companies were criticised for their failure to present an ethnically diverse picture of French society.
Although journalists of Arab or African origin, such as Roselmack, have presented the news on minor channels or out of prime time, the main news bulletins have been an all-white preserve.
This was said to reinforce the sense of alienation felt by black and Arab youths in poor, French suburbs.
After the riots, President Chirac urged all the French media, and especially television companies, to make greater effort to hire journalists from ethnic minorities.
TF1 said it had hired Roselmack to respond to the President’s appeal but also because “he is a very good journalist”.
Roselmack’s abilities are undisputed. Formerly a radio journalist, he has become a popular figure on the i-TELE cable news channel in the past six months. He has been praised for his clear and faultless presentation and his ability to exude seriousness and warmth.
He was described by one French newspaper as “having the looks of a play-boy, smiling and sexy”.
Born on the French Caribbean island of Martinique, Roselmack was brought up in Tours, western France.
From the summer, he will present regular news bulletins on TFI’s 24-hour news channel, LCI. More importantly, he will, from July, become the face of the 8pm TF1 news while its veteran presenter, Patrick Poivre d’Arvor, is on holiday.
The TF1 evening news, with an audience of more than 5 million, claims to be the most watched news programme in Europe. In a country which has a low readership of national newspapers, the TF1 news is the main window on national and international events, especially in provincial France or “La France profonde”.
Amirouche Laïdi, the president of Club Averroès, a pressure group for ethnic balance in the French media, welcomed the appointment.
“Harry Roselmack, a black man, on the TF1 evening news will be a bombshell, a huge advance,” he said. “It’s also a victory for normality. M. Roselmack has set the screen on fire on I-TELE since last year.
“Pretty soon, no one will see the black man on the television, only the journalist.”
Azouz Begag, the Minister for Equality of Opportunity, said the appointment was a “great step forward” because television was the “mirror in which society looks at itself”.