PARIS, 13/10/2009 - Herewith an English translation of the open letter sent to French parliamentarians and the media on Monday by the trade unions representing all AFP staff categories employed under French labour contracts:
In a few weeks' time, the French Parliament is likely to begin examining a draft law which would make profound changes to AFP's statutes, putting the agency in danger.
Despite the opposition of the employees' elected union representatives, the reform seeks to change AFP, the number-three worldwide news agency and the only one in the top three which does not have English as its native language, into a state-owned joint-stock company.
The joint AFP unions demand the withdrawal of this plan, which would endanger the agency's independence by subjecting it to state control, thus contravening the second article in the current statutes.
The unions wish to point out the dangers inherent in decreeing that the French state would be able to finance AFP via capital increases, at the whim of the government of the day. This is all the more risky at a time when the limits of financing via share capital have become apparent in many areas of the world economy.
The planned law would also create confusion given that 100 percent of the capital of our worldwide news agency would be held by the French state, even though some 60 percent of our sales income now comes from private clients, notably outside France.
AFP is threatened by this project in two ways: the company risks being initially turned into a state entity, and later being privatised. Such a process would be comparable to what has happened in recent years to France Telecom and to Gaz de France.
Whatever the outcome, the process would threaten the agency's independence both editorially and economically.
The joint unions demand that once the reform plan has been abandoned, a round table conference be organised to examine ways of financing AFP that remain within the framework of the statutes that guarantee our independence.
The unions regret that the Cultural Affairs Committee of the French National Assembly has not followed up on the suggestion of one of its members by setting up a parliamentary mission to look into the agency's future, and ways in which it could be provided with durable financial arrangements.
However the unions take note of the fact that the committee's chairperson, Mme Michèle Tabarot, has proposed a series of auditions ahead of such a project. We hope that members of parliament will thereby hear the views of AFP staff, as was the case when the current statutes were drawn up in 1957.
Joint CGT, CFDT, SNJ, FO, SUD and CGC trade unions at AFP - Monday Oct 12, 2009