Gorkana Meets…Gilles Marchand and Radio Télévision Suisse (RTS)

Firstly, could you please sum up your career so far, as well as what keeps you busy professionally at the moment?Gilles Marchand

Originally educated as a sociologist at University of Geneva, I started working as a book publisher and then specialised in studies and analyses of written press, both daily and magazine, readerships.
Afterwards, I managed the Ringier Romandie Press Group (in the French-speaking part of Switzerland) which mainly publishes weekly magazines. I then joined the Télévision Suisse Romande as a director in 2001.
In 2010, we merged the Radio and Télévision Suisse in order to manage two television channels as well as four radio channels in one broadcaster, and provide a lot of interactive platforms. At the same time, I am also a member of the SSR (Swiss Broadcasting Corporation)’s Management  Board and an administrator for TV5Monde and Euronews.

Nowadays, I try to adapt the public broadcasting service model with the new digital environment in mind. To do this we need a total redefinition of the ‘established’ models of broadcasting, within a relatively tense political environment!

Finally, I also preside over the LMFP (Francophone public Media), a very interesting professional association which brings together France Télévisions, Radio France, the RTBF, Radio Canada, the Radio Télévision Suisse, TV5Monde, TV5Québec-Canada, Télé-Québec, France 24 and RFI.

Could you tell us a little bit more about your administrator role for TV5Monde ?

Basically, I contribute to making this international TV channel, to which we are deeply committed, even better known. As I preside over the Boards of Directors’ Programme Committee, I ensure there is a balance to the content – as it comes from France, Belgium, Canada and Switzerland. Multilateralism definitely is in TV5Monde’s DNA. We have a lot of contact, between partners, but also we have a lot of contact with the teams at TV5Monde.

What does a typical working week look like for you ?

My typical working week consists of three parts: the first third is dedicated to managing activities for the RTS, in Lausanne and in Geneva, with the assistance of my different teams. The second part is then dedicated to national activities for the SSR (Swiss Broadcasting Corporation), in Bern or Zurich, and requires me to work in German most of the time. Finally, the remaining third is dedicated to international projects such as TV5Monde and Euronews. But, also the UER (European Union of Radio and Television), which is active throughout all of Europe. In this part of the week, my main language tends to be English. At the same time, I also try to attend as many cultural and sports events, in which our television and radio channels are involved, as I can. Needless to say, I barely find enough time to get bored…

Although they share some common ground, PRs and journalists seem to have a sort of a love-hate relationship. What is, according to you, the key to a healthy relationship between these two sides of the media business?

Each must remain in the place to which he/she has been assigned and provide transparency. It is as simple as that. Both activities are legitimate as long as there is no confusion. PRs carry out a communications role, and it’s absolutely honourable when it’s clear. Journalists carry out an editorial role, which must not serve any other interest, other than the public interest. Problems start when the two activities are mixed and worst of all is when the whole thing gives birth to ‘Infomercials’.

Are you in contact with PRs ? And if yes, how do they contribute to the creation of content?

I am frequently in contact with PRs. Nevertheless, they play no role in the creation of our content. Best case scenario: they provide our journalists with documentation, but they must agree with the principle of the information being checked by us in the first instance.

 What is, for you, the best form of exchange with PRs (in terms of establishing contact and transmitting information)?

Definitely transparency: announce who you are working for and for what purpose. Never dissimulate the context in which the exchange takes place.

Radio remains the most trusted form of media in the eyes of the French, according to TNS Sofres’ 2016 Barometer measuring consumer trust in the media, which it carried out for the French national La Croix. With your background as a sociologist and your media expertise, what are your thoughts on this trend and how would you explain it ? Is the situation similar in Switzerland ?

It is very similar in Switzerland. To my mind, regardless of the quality of the journalistic work, this is mainly due to the fact that the radio does not really stage the information it delivers. Keeping that in mind, the media considered the most credible is, therefore, the one which delivers raw information. In many cases, television’s formal dimension tends to create a little bit of suspicion about the authenticity of the information it provides. Finally, as for the print media, there may be, here and there, some perception problems such as the dependency on brands investing in advertising campaigns and the impression that some superficial issues take on an exaggerated  importance.

Personally, what information resource do you trust the most ?

I make extensive use of our live information platforms (RTSINFO), whether via the website or mobile apps. I also use my tablet to watch replays of our news programmes and always wake up with our first radio channel’s morning information show. In addition, I still take a quick look at the newspapers, as well as their websites each morning. Finally, I save the weekly publications for the weekends.

The internet and digital transformation are creating new challenges in media. Is this an ‘evolution’ or a ‘revolution’? How does the RTS embrace this change?

We are clearly talking about a powerful revolution which is, in my opinion, as siginificant as Gutenberg’s was. It is changing everything – from media production to the way information is distributed and not forgetting the public’s expectations and behaviour. Having the opportunity to experience and be part of such a mutation in professional life is both stunning and fascinating!
We, at the RTS, are of course also impacted and shaken by this phenomenon. But we have been bracing ourselves for this situation since the beginning of the 2000s. So, we now have experience and the public has perfectly identified our interactive offers. Nowadays, we bet on mobility and recommendation and we are lucky to be able to rely on quality content both in terms of radio and television, which is our property and which we can then re-offer through all our digital platforms. I believe the public service has a real responsibility on that front: to accompany the audience in this great digital switchover while preserving the central values of independence and transparency. What an extraordinary challenge!

Gilles was interviewed by Gorkana’s Anthony Saison.

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