After the Riots, France Reassesses

Much of the chaos that engulfed Paris earlier this month has subsided, but the issues that sparked the riots still exist. Host Steve Inskeep talks with reporter Eleanor Beardsley about what it was like to cover the riots and what is happening politically because of them.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Television crews have long since left the scene of the riots in France, leaving behind the divisions that the riots exposed. Steve Inskeep spoke to a reporter who was there.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Eleanor Beardsley covered the violence for NPR. She's back for a brief visit and to talk with us about a story that goes on.

Welcome to the program.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY reporting:

Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: You saw on TV as we did what the violence looked like through the camera. Was it any different when you're on the streets seeing it in person?

BEARDSLEY: Well, it was different because you'd watch TV and you'd see France on fire and it wasn't true really. The next day, I'd go out during the day to these communities and these suburbs were often hard to get to. It took a long time to get there. And even once there, sometimes you'd have to find--you know, ask people, `Well, where was that factory that burned.' So it wasn't obvious. It wasn't like Paris was on fire, you'd see the foreign coverage, you know, riots. And it didn't feel like that. If you'd never turned your TV on, you wouldn't know it. You kind of had to go look for it.

INSKEEP: The violence was more limited than it seemed...

BEARDSLEY: Yes, it really was.

INSKEEP: ...even though there were thousands and thousands of cars that were burned apparently.

BEARDSLEY: That's true, but apparently that's a French or maybe European phenomena because now that everything is calmed down, there's still, you know, over a hundred cars burned every night in France.

INSKEEP: It's just a regular thing...

BEARDSLEY: I think so, yeah.

INSKEEP: ...like carjacking in the United States.

BEARDSLEY: Yeah, exactly.

INSKEEP: Now how did the crowds treat journalists?

BEARDSLEY: Well, when I first started going out there, 'cause I covered it for about two weeks, there was a lot of boys, young men, out in front of apartment buildings. And these were probably the young men who'd been rioting the night before. And at first, they were hostile. They'd say, `You know, this isn't a zoo. We don't want--what are you reporters doing out here? What--there's nothing to see here. Go away.' I'd say, `Well, I want to hear what you have to say. I'm not French media.' And also as soon as I'd say I'm not with the French media, they'd say, `Oh, OK.' I'd say, `Tell me your story. Americans want to know what's going on. How do you feel?' Then they were all ready to talk. So they were very open. They'd talk, but I think a lot of cameramen especially told me it is absolutely so dangerous and scary. As soon as you put a camera up they would just get vicious and then you'd start to hear stories, like, `Camera crew pulled out of their car and their car set on fire.' And it became scary the more stories you heard, but I never felt afraid really.

INSKEEP: They were happier to talk to you as a foreign reporter than if you were a French reporter?

BEARDSLEY: That's right because at least one of the private stations there, they feel like that they only air, you know, stories about crime and violence from their community. They never come there for anything else. So they were, like, `You know, you're here again 'cause you sense trouble, but you never come here to cover a good thing.' So that's the way they sort of saw the French news.

INSKEEP: This is the same kind of complaint that people in inner-city America will sometimes make about the newspeople.

BEARDSLEY: It was exactly like that, yeah. Yeah.

INSKEEP: Now that a couple of weeks have passed, is there a sense in France that these riots have changed anything about these poor neighborhoods where immigrants for the most part are living on the edges of major cities?

BEARDSLEY: I think definitely. While there were plenty of French people who said, `This has been brewing for 30 years,' most of the country was shocked that people live in France and feel like second-class citizens because on paper you're equal, but obviously in a society, it's not equal. The whole society was just turned over. I mean, this was talked about--well, I would say maybe the violence was not exaggerated but, you know, it wasn't--actually cities were not burning. I would say that the causes of it were not exaggerated and you would walk down the street and hear people talking. You'd be in restaurants and people would be talking about it, all over the TV talk shows. It was just on and on, and I think things really will change. Just this week, Chirac met with business leaders and union leaders together and that's never done.

INSKEEP: Jacques Chirac, the president.

BEARDSLEY: Jacques Chirac, the president of France, and he also met with all of the media heads, cinema, television and they're trying to encourage diversity in hiring, you know, on television. They're talking about resumes with no name on it because there's been a lot of discrimination if you had an Arab-sounding name. They just did a survey I think a couple of days ago, and 79 percent of French people are for more diversity. So I think the top echelons of government, society, entertainment are now really looking at ways to make France a more diverse country.

INSKEEP: Reporter Eleanor Beardsley, thanks very much.

BEARDSLEY: Thank you, Steve.

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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