Union leaders demand cancellation of television debate featuring Marine Le Pen saying it would worsen social tension
French journalists' union leaders have demanded the cancellation of a live television debate featuring Marine Le Pen, the vice-president of the Front National, claiming it would be "a disgrace" for a public broadcaster to provide a platform for the far-right.
In echoes of the controversy over the appearance of BNP leader Nick Griffin on the BBC's Question Time in the autumn, the journalists' branch of the CGT union has said the proposed discussion – scheduled for tonight – should be taken off air. It says the clash, which will pit Le Pen against the immigration minister, Eric Besson, on the theme of "national identity", risked exacerbating existing social tensions which had already been aggravated by Nicolas Sarkozy's "big debate" on the same thorny subject.
"[This debate] between the representative of the extreme right and the figure who makes its ideas commonplace can only end badly," said union leader Jean-François Téaldi. A statement from the CGT said Sarkozy's national debate had "nationalistic, islamophobic and demagogic undertones".
However, France Télévisions, the public broadcaster, insisted the event would go ahead as planned. "It is the public service's function to organise debates. We are the only ones who do it," said Nathalie Saint-Cricq, editor-in-chief of the France 2 programme A vous de juger. Another executive insisted the programme would "not be a red carpet rolled out at the feet of Marine Le Pen".
But their assurances cut little ice with journalists. Téaldi said the appearance of the daughter and heir apparent of FN leader Jean-Marie Le Pen was irresponsible so close to regional elections in March.
"The national identity debate is getting out of control on the internet and in towns and is serving merely to boost votes for the Front National," he said. "A vous de juger will, with this debate, be airing arguments which will aggravate the social divide."
A poll commissioned by Le Monde and France 2 today indicated that, while over three-quarters of those surveyed said they "completely disagreed" with the ideas of the FN, the number of people saying they believed the far-right party to be a "danger" had decreased since 2006. Critics of Sarkozy's national identity debate say he has moved the debate on immigration to the right and made the ideas of Le Pen and his daughter more mainstream than they were before.