TCS Daily


Voice of Anti-America

By Nidra Poller - July 25, 2005 12:00 AM

Radio France Internationale is like most other French media...but more so. Not to be confused with "public radio," RFI is part and parcel of the government-owned and controlled Radio France organization that stretches across the FM band from France-Inter to France Info. But RFI is more directly controlled than its fellow stations; it is the voice of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, known by its geographical nickname as the Quai d'Orsay (comparable to Foggy Bottom), which is itself a state within the state. Governments come and go; the Quai d'Orsay endures. France's international influence shrinks, but the Quai struts to the four corners of the globe. The last vestiges of French grandeur.

Listening to RFI is something like knowing your local French ambassador's chauffeur. You get a lot of gossip but there's no way to verify the information. It's all under the wraps of secret diplomacy. Is monsieur l'ambassadeur really negotiating the sale of highly sensitive military equipment to a certain rogue government or is he just fishing for a vote at the next major international rendez-vous?

Gossip is what you get on RFI, where a ragtag army of journalists mills virtually around the globe, under the command of a distracted general appointed directly by the Quai -- no previous broadcasting experience required. Like any army, RFI includes a vast quartermaster corps and all sorts of behind the scenes units.

It is safe to assume that the vocation of RFI is to speak to the Francophone world composed primarily of former colonies and, in its vast majority, Arab-speaking. A practiced ear will note the exemplary pronunciation of Arab names on RFI, whether the speaker is the tragicomic editorialist Richard Labevière or a genuine Hassan, Idriss, or Mohamed. On the other hand, English is massacred. An RFI favorite was Coleeeeen Poe-well. And of course the much besmirched President Boosh.

The Juan Gomez call-in show offers a sample of vocal listeners. Unlike an American talk show host, Gomez does not freely express his opinions, sparring with callers or high-fiving them as the case may be. He's just a perfect host who (allegedly) allows his guests to give their opinions on the subject du jour. The risks are calculated -- no direct intervention is possible. Callers pass through a filter, give a preview of their intended comments, and leave a number where they can be reached during the program. The smartass who slips through by falsifying his intentions is swiftly caught in Gomez's net and slapped down or cut short. From 2000 to 2004, the all-time favorite subject was the Middle East conflict and the war in Iraq. An overwhelming majority of callers were hostile to Israel and/or the United States.

RFI broadcasts a news bulletin every half hour; in fact, you get three types of newscast repeated with slight variations from morning to night. The African news comes with its toll of famine, AIDS, state corruption, and internecine savagery. The Asian bulletins are more cheerfully monetary. And the general news, both local and international is, if you excuse the expression, hilarious.

Between the high costs of newsgathering and the modest budgets of French media stands Agence France Presse. Another jewel in the French crown. Mix together government control and subsidies, a majority Arab-Muslim clientèle, a heavy dose of reigning ideological propensities, and you get AFP-flavored news of the world. Unmistakable. Even our Jewish radio stations shop at the AFP...for news from Iraq, for example. Where else would they get this one: "Continuing violence in Iraq, 15 people were killed by a car bomb in X today. But this figure pales beside the 75 dead in Y." It just happens that the 75 casualties in Y are jihadis taken out by a joint American-Iraqi unit. But it's all the same to the AFP and it's all the same to the journalists who tear off a release and read it with empty eyes. When slanted AFP news falls into the hands of a predisposed RFI journalist, the effect is compounded.

Some days, especially in the early morning hours, RFI spills out a half-hour session of hate in the 1984 tradition. Every strand of information is teased and twisted to form dreadlocks of condemnation, primarily of Israel and the United States. A real tour de force. It can start anywhere, it always ends up with trashing the American government, mocking its vision of democracy for the Middle East, proclaiming -- if not applauding -- defeat in Iraq. As for Israel, the pleasure taken in pronouncing the word "colon" (meaning "colonist" which is French for settlers) is pornographic.

Britain recently slipped into the shooting gallery. In case you don't know, London won the 2012 Olympics by cheating. The IOC cheated, too; in fact it is rotten to the core. The French presentation was not only the best it was the onliest; IOC members only had eyes for Paris. The French are pure as the driven snow, and the purest of all the land is the mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, whose British grandmother taught him that wonderful word "fair play." Another English word -- lobbying, pronounced law-be-ing -- has been accepted into the French language as a way of suggesting that no Frenchman would ever stoop so low. The French delegation, a committee of virgins trusting in the Olympic gods, arrived in Singapore with an open heart. The delegates left in tatters, betrayed by perfidious Albion.

Obviously the Quai d'Orsay could not remain indifferent to this crime of lèse-majesté. And it must be admitted that the French media unanimously fumed with rage when London took the jackpot on the 6th of July.

With a few notable exceptions. On the morning of July 7th, RFI editorialist Patrice Biancone calmly opined that the French lost their Olympics bid because they were too arrogant, too self-confident, and out of touch with the big wide world. France is not a great power, it is a middling power and it's time to accept it. The British don't suffer from great power illusions; that's why they had a winning strategy. You can't just talk about being pragmatic, said Biancone, you have to get results.

That editorial was followed by an interview with Denis MacShane, a British diplomat formerly posted in France. Heedless of Biancone's wisdom, breathless with media-induced innocence, the journalist bemused her unflappable British guest who reminded her that Paris lost by four little votes...it's no big thing. When MacShane explained how the British started campaigning three years ago, systematically visiting every IOC representative on his own turf, Miss RFI gasped in horror: "But that's law-be-ing! It's against the law!" MacShane laughed: "I've seen the French lobbying with all their might..."

At that very moment, four born-in-Britain shahids were on their way to King's Cross Station.

Would the bomb blasts change hearts and minds at RFI? What does the Quai d'Orsay have to say to its Francophone, primarily Muslim, audience? When Tony Blair solemnly declared that the murderous attacks were committed in the name of Islam, RFI newscasters systematically added: "He meant, of course, radical Islamist Islam."

In the days following the attacks, all manner of specialists in terrorism, geopolitics, international relations, and the Middle East stepped up to the RFI microphones. The abiding message was: Watch out! Don't over-react! Excessive reactions could lead to that famous clash of civilizations invented by Huntington and rejected by all the right people. Of course the British were advised to root out the causes of terrorism, namely their presence in Iraq and the Israeli occupation of Palestine. To be fair, some commentators expressed admiration for British determination as contrasted with Spanish surrender. And the fact that France too is a target has finally emerged.

But nothing could faze the guests on "Arab Kiosque," a regular feature broadcast from Beirut, with a marked pro-Syrian bias that has not really disappeared in the wake of the Cedar Revolution. On the 16th of July a Lebanese sociologist and the author of a book on the Hizbullah as an Islamo-nationalist movement analyzed the jihad attacks in London. Host Frédéric Domont introduced the program by saying that it is now clear that the George W. Bush method of fighting terrorism has failed, and French President Jacques Chirac was right when he said, on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, that it would open the gates of hell. With evident satisfaction the two specialists placed the London attacks in the timeline of a war that began in 9/11, only to explain that the American occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan exacerbated if it did not exactly cause this war...that started in September 2001.

Cause and effect twisted and curled into the same old dreadlocks: You have to understand the feelings of the Pakistani Brits, how are they treated and mistreated, how do they feel about British participation in the occupation of Iraq. Al Qaeda? What's in a name? Does it really exist or is it a Western invention? If it exists, the West created it, backed it, fuels it. As the program drew to a conclusion, host and guests cordially agreed that the American government must change its Middle East policy, stop supporting Sharon against the Palestinians, stop occupying countries like Iraq. Look what they did there! They destroyed the government!

Terrorism expert Anne Guidicelli sang the same tune in an interview the following day. She warned Western governments against trying to solve the problem of terrorism by cracking down on terrorists, potential terrorists, terrorist-sympathizers, and assorted innocents. No, what has to be done is to solve the crises in Iraq (meaning get out) and the Middle East (meaning end the occupation of Palestine).

With rare exceptions, this dhimmi litany is beamed day and night into Francophone ears. If Radio France Internationale is indeed a showcase for the Quai d'Orsay, operating in a shadowy zone between journalism and propaganda, what benefits can possibly be drawn from telling listeners that their humiliation justifies their rage, their rage justifies their violence, and their violence is rightfully directed against the United States and Israel?

The sign-on is "Listen to RFI all over the world." One might wonder if RFI is listening to what is happening in the real world where life is life and death is death and words can tip the balance.

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