French president, backed by poll, pushes for more diverse TV shows after riots

President &to=' target=_blank>Jacques Chirac, seeking responses to rioting that shook France, met television executives and union leaders Tuesday to stress the government's determination to see greater ethnic diversity in the workplace.

In a meeting with the heads of major French networks, Chirac said he wanted legal steps to be taken to fight against discrimination in the media.

Chirac said it was vital for television, which is "particularly emblematic" of French society, to be representative of the population. To further that goal, he said the legal statutes of France's official media watchdog, the High Audiovisual Council, or CSA, should be amended to provide greater powers to root out discrimination.

He also announced that a Ђ10 million (US$12 million) fund would be created for France's national center of cinematography to help finance films that "contribute to social cohesion."

France's conservative government has recently announced speeded-up spending to improve employment opportunities to tackle discrimination after the worst civil unrest in four decades exposed frustrations among youths of North and West African origin.

Three weeks of violence that ended last week sparked intense debate over France's failure to integrate minorities and forced the government to confront problems of racism that are deeply entrenched but usually ignored.

Chirac and many of his top ministers are opposed to any official policy of affirmative action, or what is known in France as positive discrimination.

In a separate meeting Tuesday with union leaders and employers, Chirac reiterated his opposition to setting job quotas along racial lines.

"It is a system which has the result of pointing the finger at those who benefit from it and being hard to explain to those who are excluded from it," he said after meeting unions and employers Tuesday. "It is not in accordance with republican principles."

But, Chirac told the meeting that France's public and private sectors both needed to do more to fight discrimination, which he called "a major problem for our country."

The meeting was intended to "encourage" unions and employers to promote greater equality and devise ways to combat discrimination, Chirac said.

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