France's first black newsreader is the nation's new TV heart-throb

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The Independent Online

France is just wild about Harry. Since Harry Roselmack took over reading France's most-watched TV news bulletin a week ago, he has been a runaway success. So much so that viewers are already beginning to forget that he is black.

Roselmack's presence on the screen - the first non-white to present a French mainstream TV news bulletin in prime time - was originally news in itself.

His professionalism and refreshingly snappy style of presentation has since won him praise for his journalistic ability. TF1, the most popular French TV channel, says that it has received a few vicious messages from racist die-hards. Otherwise, the reaction from viewers has been positive.

After just one week, Roselmack, 32, is well on the way to becoming one of the best-known faces in France and a national heart-throb.

With 7,400,000 viewers a night (42 per cent of the audience), he is comfortably ahead of the ratings for summer news bulletins.

During the rioting by multiracial suburban youth gangs last November, French TV companies were much criticised for their failure to present an ethnically diverse picture of French society. Although journalists of Arab or African origin - including Roselmack - have presented the news on minor channels or out of prime time, the main bulletins have been an all-white preserve. After the riots, President Jacques Chirac urged all the French media to hire journalists from ethnic minorities. TF1 announced in March that it had hired Roselmack as its summer news reader because he was "a very good journalist".

Roselmack's ability is clear. He has brought a more rapid, less cloying and personalised style to the TF1 news. The bulletin's veteran presenter, Patrick Poivre d'Arvor likes to lounge seductively between the viewers and the news. Roselmack is more direct and packs in more information.

His former colleague as presenter of news on the youth-oriented cable channel, i-television, said: "He is just being Harry. He is not playing at being someone else. He is hugely talented and has enormous common sense... He goes straight to the heart of the subject."

Born on the West Indian island of Martinique, which is part of France, Roselmack was brought up in Tours on the river Loire.

He says that he is not interested in succeeding as a "black journalist", only as a journalist. On his first night, however, he made a telling point. His bulletin included an item on a black woman who had been refused a job as a hairdresser because of the colour of her skin. This was a relatively banal, local newspaper story which would not normally have made the national TV news.