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AFP Elects New Chief After Government Blocks Incumbent

February 5, 1996

PARIS (AP) _ Agence France-Presse elected a new chief after the government blocked the incumbent’s re-election, allegedly because of AFP’s coverage of issues that embarrassed the prime minister.

Jean Miot, a baron of the Hersant publishing empire and head of the National Federation of French Press, was elected Saturday to a three-year term as president of the world’s oldest news agency.

``I think I have proven my complete independence throughout my career,″ Miot said in comments broadcast Sunday by France-Info radio. ``Independence here is fundamental. We are a worldwide agency.″

For several days, AFP was mired in a deadlock over the replacement of Lionel Fleury. Government-appointed members of the 15-member board of directors opposed his re-election.

The eight media members of the board backed Fleury, but 12 votes are needed to choose a president. The state-appointed members vetoed Fleury on the grounds he had done too little to modernize the agency.

The state has members on the board because it represents more than 46 percent of AFP’s turnover in the form of subscriptions by government ministries and other public services. Eight members represent French newspapers and two represent AFP workers.

During his three-year mandate, Fleury had succeeded in redressing the finances of the once money-losing news agency.

But Le Monde and other prominent newspapers reported that the government opposed Fleury’s re-election because of AFP’s aggressive coverage last year of a housing scandal involving Prime Minister Alain Juppe and his relatives. It also was reportedly unhappy about AFP’s extensive coverage of nationwide anti-government strikes by public workers that paralyzed France in November and December.

Fleury said last week that during a meeting with Juppe, the premier was critical of AFP’s coverage of the strikes. On Friday, Juppe denied those allegations and insisted the government wasn’t backing a candidate.

Unions representing AFP employees denounced the election of Miot, 56, a top executive at the pro-government conservative daily Le Figaro. He was a consensus candidate who emerged late last week.

Workers Force called Miot’s election a ``coup″ ``tainted with illegality.″ It referred to AFP’s charter, which stresses its independence from the state and big business.

Despite AFP’s dependence on state subscriptions, its reporters have strived to demonstrate their independence, as evidenced by their aggressive reporting of the strikes and the housing scandal.

AFP, founded by Charles-Louis Havas in 1835, is the third largest news agency after The Associated Press and Reuters and the only major French-language wire service. It has 2,000 employees, including 1,150 journalists based in bureaus in France and around the world.

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