For Anne-Fleur Lespiaut, life as France 24 correspondent in Mali suddenly ended on March 22. While the military in power had just suspended the broadcasting of the RFI channel and radio (two entities of the public audiovisual group France Médias Monde) in the country, the management in Paris asked her to leave Bamako, where she had settled. end of 2020.

For several months, the young woman had been paying the price for the deterioration of diplomatic relations between Paris and Bamako, where she was publicly described as “persona non grata in the service of French propaganda media”. Since her return, she has faced other worries. “I’m broke, France 24 has not maintained my salary,” laments the 28-year-old journalist, who had been assured of the contrary.

In fact, contractually, nothing obliges France 24 to honor this promise. Like the overwhelming majority of the 160 correspondents of the public channel, Anne-Fleur Lespiaut is actually considered a service provider, paid not directly by the channel but by one of the 47 subcontracted production companies.

Despite the “guaranteed minimum amount” that France 24 paid monthly to the company that employed it in Bamako, Hemisphere Media Production Africa (HMPA), its director Patrick Fandio felt that it was France’s “responsibility”. 24 to compensate Anne-Fleur Lespiaut, and not his own, as he wrote in a statement released after being implicated in an article in Le Canard enchaîné. Contacted, Patrick Fandio sent us back to this text. On May 10, he announced to the network that their collaboration would end in December.

Unforeseen expenses

“Anne-Fleur was not our employee,” counters Loïck Berrou, deputy director of France 24 in charge of magazines and reports. Privileged interlocutor of correspondents, the journalist defends a system “which allows France 24 to have a network that holds up, and correspondents to earn a good living”.

An appreciation that not everyone we interviewed shares. “Several of us had to give up our status as freelancers (therefore also the payment in salary, and obtaining the press card), to found our companies and be paid by invoice, explains a journalist who prefers to keep the anonymity, for fear of losing his only source of income. We therefore do not contribute to the “Social Security” for our pensions, we are not entitled to maternity leave, nor unemployment, nor severance pay if we are fired. »

Everyone can contribute to the CFE (the Caisse des Français de l’étranger), but some say they cannot afford it: not only do incomes differ according to workloads and the areas covered, but the cost of living n is not the same all over the world. “There are also people for whom this system is suitable”, recalls a figure of the antenna, which however pleads for its improvement.

Sometimes an accident causes unforeseen expenses. This is what happened to Jean-Marie Lemaire, France 24 correspondent in Morocco since 2006, when he was shot in the leg while reporting in Libya, where the channel had sent him in 2011. “While the airwaves were still talking about me as the one who had been injured ‘to inform us’, I received an email from the HR department telling me that my hospital costs would not all be covered, and that I had to turn to my insurance, “says the sixty-year-old, who was paid through the structure he had to create.

Determined to argue that his injury is a work accident, supported internally by the CGT, Jean-Marie Lemaire has scrapped for years against France 24. Just a year ago, the prud’hommes reclassified his relationship with the chain in CDI, a decision which she appealed.

“This outsourcing to production companies is a way that many French channels use to free themselves from the responsibilities they may have vis-à-vis their journalists, explains Anthony Fouchard, former correspondent for France 24 in the Central African Republic. and in Mali. It is also a good way for them to reduce their operating costs. »

With a budget in 2022 of 254.2 million euros, strictly from the contribution to public broadcasting (CAP, ex-royalty), to which must be added 13.9 million euros of own revenue, France Media World has been forced to make 20 million euros in savings over the past four years.

“I’m not saying that our system is super virtuous, but we are not brutes, assures Loïck Berrou. We bring new things to correspondents every year. We have also decided to increase the guaranteed minimums, because everyone has worked well in recent years. For her part, Anne-Fleur Lespiaut was offered by France 24 the production of a final twelve-minute report. This summer, it will be seasonal in a Breton creperie.