Strike forces Radio France Internationale to broadcast music


At RFI (Radio France Internationale), strikers are now into the eighth week of a strike which started on 12 May over redundancies. RFI announced that it would lay off 200 employees, a fifth of the staff. According to trade unions involved, it is the longest strike in the French public audiovisual sector since 1968. On a station where information used to take the largest proportion of time, music is now “de rigeur”.

RFI has nearly 40 million listeners in francophone Africa.«For an African politician, being interviewed on RFI is like becoming marchal», underlines Jérémy, political journalist in Cameroun. If there was civil unrest in a francophone country, one of the first measures taken by the Government was to cut off the RFI transmitter.

Francophone African leaders listen to this radio, and its journalists are very influential. Many of them have been asked to leave the country, for example from Antananarivo iand Dakar. RFI journalist Jean Hélène in Abidjan was assassinated in October 2003. In Dakar, those who like to comment on current affairs are sometimes given the nickname «RFI».

The other reason for the radio's influence comes from the fact that radio remains the dominent media in Africa. Even village people can afford to purchase a radio while television is being censored by local political authorities. At the same time, the African francophone press has become too expensive for the vast majority. Dailies in many countries do not publish more that 10,000 copies.

Indeed RFI is holding its own against the newer, private radio stations. Cities like Dakar or Cotonou have more than ten radio stations. Nevertheless, RFI still has 200,000 listeners in the Senegalese capital, with an audience share of 16 %, ranking RFI at the third place in the market. RFI represents access to international information with correspondants in almost every country of the African continent.

Starved of French language news are turning to «radio de Londres». The BBC has equipped its African network with powerful FM transmitters. The BBC also provides local information and its French programming is about to be transferred from London to Dakar over the next few months. «La Beeb» is perceived as an excellent radio station, whether it is in French or in English, which helps people improves their use of Shakespeare’s language. And as some local wags have commented, the BBC could well become the second favorite wife, perhaps even their preferred one. There are now rumours about Chinese radios broadcasting in French...Will the information quality remain the same?

Summarised from a Pierre Malet article.