Jérôme Bouvier, Chairman of the Journalism and Citizenship Association (France)
''The loud statement of its republican values too often hides France’s great difficulty in respecting the diversity of which it is composed," said the journalist and former managing editor of France Culture and Radio France Internationale, Jérôme Bouvier.
''Media professionals should mobilised themselves to better reflect the ethnic and social diversity of the country.''
By tradition, France ignores matters of ethnicity to foster national unity and avoid the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ trap of ‘communitarianism.’ It is criticised for placing too great an emphasis on ethnic and cultural origins at the expense of social cohesion.
But Bouvier claims that the French principle, though well-intentioned, has resulted in a media and information culture which is socially elitist, lags behind modern France and barely represents the interests of the nation’s minority communities.
''France is behind in ethno-cultural diversity,'' he said. ''French culture has always been suspicious of communitarianism. We have refused communitarianism for good reasons. There is a conviction in France that we are all equal and should not make distinctions between cultural origins.
''In affirming this, we have left behind people in French society, notably from immigrant communities, who feel excluded by this model.
''The journalists and presenters on television and radio do not reflect sufficiently French society. There is considerable work to do.''
Bouvier will invite journalists and the media owners to debate these questions at the third international symposium of journalists – 'les Assises Internationales du Journalisme et de l’information' – organised by his Journalism & Citizenship association.
The event takes place in Strasbourg between 5 and 9 October, in partnership with the Council of Europe and brings together some 450 journalists to discuss current issues affecting the media. Themes include press freedom, independence and the quality of information. The journalists will also seek to mobilise local public opinion through open meetings.
Bouvier recognises that making French media more representative of society has become a more urgent concern and cites the urban riots which swept the country in 2005 as ''triggering'' a change in attitudes.
He said: ''As everywhere, there is racism in France. It is latent. The press must not cease to open the debate on these questions.''
Bouvier’s contacts with publishers and journalists have encouraged him to believe that France’s media is changing and is now ready to face up to the challenges presented by the changes to the country’s social make-up.
He points to the recruitment of black presenters by flagship news programmes as ''important symbols'' of change. However, Bouvier claims this is only a starting point. He gives the country’s media organisations five years to deliver on their promises.
''Today, there is sufficient understanding to remove some real obstacles.'' he added. ''Things are moving. It is a great challenge. Ethno-cultural diversity is one of the keys to the success of the media in the future.''