PARIS — With a few exceptions, French TV is notoriously fair-skinned.
So leading commercial web TF1 made headlines last week when it announced anchorman Patrick Poivre d’Arvor’s stand-in during the summer holidays would be black .
Photos of Harry Roselmack, a 33-year-old from Martinique, were plastered all over the French newspapers.
And TF1 was busy patting itself on the back for having moved quicker than France’s other webs to up its quotient of ethnic faces on the box.
“The face of television must change,” TF1’s news topper Robert Namias says. “The appointment of Harry Roselmack sends out a strong signal.”
French President Jacques Chirac personally asked Gallic broadcasters to make efforts in that direction following last year’s riots in deprived ethnic neighborhoods all over the country.
However, it was left to the webs to decide what those efforts should be because, ironically, quotas that overtly favor one group over another are against the French constitution’s “egalite” principle.
Congratulating TF1, the daily Le Parisien waxed lyrical March 8: “Never has a black journalist been given such a prestigious post in France. It is the most watched news bulletin in France.”
TF1’s nightly newscasts are among the web’s best ratings performers, regularly drawing more than 10 million viewers, with around a 40% audience share.
To date, only pubcaster channel France 3 has given a regular evening slot to a black newscaster, another Martiniquaise, Audrey Pulvar.
Roselmack, whose rise in broadcast journalism has been rapid, will join the TF1 Group after serving out his notice at Canal Plus’ round-the-clock web i-Tele, his employer since September.
However, prompting further column inches in the French press, there was some doubt last week as to exactly when i-Tele would let Roselmack go — and if it would be in time to fulfill his summer substitute role and take up his post on news cabler LCI, which belongs to the TF1 group.
Inevitably, not everyone at TF1 is thrilled to see him come.
The job of filling in for Poivre d’Arvor has previously fallen to Thomas Hugues.
He and wife Laurence Ferrari present TF1’s popular hourlong news show “7 a 8.”
Hugues hasn’t breathed a word about the new challenger, but French press reports claim his nose is definitely out of joint.