French TV head resigns over pay scandal

The President of France Television, Jean-Pierre Elkabbach, announced his resignation yesterday, following weeks of scandal over amounts paid to a number of presenter-producers on France 2, a public channel.

The scandal broke last November with a parliamentary report by the right- wing UDF MP, Alain Griotteray, in which details of the turnover of various presenters' production companies were uncovered. Over 600 million francs (pounds 75m) was paid to six presenters for the 1995-1996 season.

The resulting outrage centred on one of France 2's stars, Jean-Luc Delarue, who hosts two popular weekly talk shows, Ca se discute and Deja Le Retour, as well as a show-business magazine programme, Deja Dimanche. It was revealed that Mr Delarue's Reservoir Productions was being paid Ffr134.75m for the current season and that one edition of Ca se discute was costing the channel Ffr1.27m against a going rate of Ffr800,000. It was also disclosed that the channel had paid advances of Ffr80m to a number of different presenters.

While Mr Griotteray claimed that Mr Elkabbach was simply throwing licence money down the drain Mr Delarue justified the amounts paid by claiming that each edition of Ca se discute brought the channel Ffr1.7m in advertising revenue.

The affair blew up once more in April when Mr Elkabbach decided to break off payments to Mr Delarue, which led to a court case. Even though the judge admitted he was shocked by the generous nature of the contract, he ruled in favour of the presenter. Ever since, pressure has been mounting against Mr Elkabbach.

Even though he announced at the end of last week that he would be undertaking a policy review concerning contracts with presenter-producers, a union meeting of France Television employees on Tuesday demanded his resignation. The disgruntled reaction was deepened by the fact that budgets elsewhere at France 2 and France 3, the two public channel under Mr Elkabbach's control, have been restricted. "There is too much contempt for people who do their job", said one employee, "and on the other hand, millions are being distributed to presenters".

Mr Elkabbach's response was to try to save his own skin by chopping other heads. He announced the suppression of the positions of delegate- general (Patrice Clement) and special consultant (Louis Beriot). Yet he insisted that "to talk of my departure is

However, the dismissals of Mr Clement and Mr Beriot seriously backfired and were perceived simply as the latest in a long line of ruthless management decisions.

In a press conference yesterday, Mr Elkabbach said that he had decided to step down because he did not want "the attack against me to handicap the France Television Group or that my collaborators pay for a policy which I decided upon and which I assume with pride".

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