Sénateur UMP Jacques Legendre, a member of President Sarkozy's party, has proposed a law that would reorganize the board of the Agence France-Presse. What's more, the news agency might loose state funding, which currently accounts for 40% of its budget, and become open to more political influence.
Although subsidiaries of the AFP include recent and innovative start-ups such as Citizenside, the organization can trace its roots back to 1835, when it was called the Agence Havas, making it the world's first international news agency. As Le Figaro reports, the proposed reforms are an attempt to bring the APF inline with modern EU competition law, as last year the German press agency, DAPD, made an official complaint to the European Commission claiming AFP was receiving state subsides that were illegal under EU law.
Other opponents to the changes fear that the roles of new board representatives are loosely defined and the proposed structure of the board could leave the door open for political manipulation, something which article 2 the 1957 statue that outlines the mission of the AFP strictly prohibits.
Some are more worried about safeguarding the financial future of the AFP. If the government funds disappear, what will replace them? CEO Emmanuel Hoog has stated "There is absolutely no question of the independence of the AFP, on the contrary, it is its economic stability which is in question."
So, what exactly will these reforms mean?
Here's the situation as it stands: currently, the AFP has 16 board members. This includes: 1 CEO, 2 staff representatives and 13 others who represent the interests AFP's clientele.
Of these 13 representatives, 8 are elected by various employers' associations of the French press, 2 are elected by French state broadcast media and 3 are elected by government institutions such as the Prime Minister's office, The Foreign Office and The Finance Ministry. A statute passed in 1957 dictates this arrangement, a law that Legendre now wishes to replace.
What's so good about this system?
As AFP journalist David Sharp writes, the system is pretty similar to that of the American organization, The Associated Press. The interests of clients - rather than share holders - are represented on the board, which makes the AFP comparable to a cooperative.
The high proportion of representatives from French employers associations protects French interest, not only in terms of representing the voice of French journalists, but also in economic terms, as 26% of the AFP Budget comes from sales to French clients. It's also important to bear in mind that while the AFP may have an increasingly significant base of international customers, it is also the only domestic news agency in France.
What could change?
In total, the number of board members would be cut from 16 to 15. Instead of 8 representatives, the French press would have only 3 - 1 representing regional press, 1 representing national press and 1 representing an association of online news sites.
The French government would still have 3 representatives. However, instead of being taken from specified institutions they would simply be 'representatives of state', a far looser definition, which many opponents fear could be utilised by political figures to protect their own interests.
The other additional board members would consist of 6 elected representatives who are 'independent personalities', who have neither business nor family ties to AFP, one of whom should be non-French. A separate group of 7 appointees and 2 staff representatives would elect these 'personalities'. Exactly who these 'personalities' are and exactly how 'independent' they are would be is not entirely clear.
Complicated, no? It is difficult to say whether the law will pass, but perhaps, given the revelations of the recent Bettencourt scandal, the French media, the French public and French parliament will be more wary in future of the possibility of political media manipulation.