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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

French Scribes Strike To Preserve Tax Perk

PARIS -- French journalists laid down their notebooks and cameras and took to the streets on behalf of the greater good: theirs.

The extraordinary media protest was provoked by a government threat to repeal a 30-percent tax exemption for journalists, a professional perk dating from the 1930s. The net effect of its repeal, journalists' union leaders said, could be the loss of a month's wages every year.

The day-long strike Tuesday, punctuated by a rally outside the French National Assembly, shut down most of the operations of the French state-owned broadcasters and French-language wire services. The presses stopped, too. Wednesday's editions of many French newspapers did not appear.

The atmosphere at the demonstration was light-hearted and chain-smoking. Around a placard that warned French government leaders to "Look out -- the dogs are unleashed,'' a group of striking journalists barked ironically.

Coverage of the journalists' plaint has been restrained until Tuesday, possibly because the cause engenders little sympathy. The defense of a sweet tax exemption is not likely to win widespread public support in France, where news gatherers are held in low esteem.

Editorial employees of Le Monde, France's most influential paper, refused to walk out, suggesting darkly they would be walking in to a government "trap'' to make journalists look like another pampered elite. The strike comes at a sensitive moment for the French government and its embattled prime minister, Alain Juppe.

Massive strikes are planned for Thursday by French civil servants, teachers, and transportation and transit workers in protest of government cutbacks and unemployment. Nearly a year ago, such broad-based strikes paralyzed Paris and forced the French government to retreat from deficit-cutting targets.

The Juppe budget for 1997 takes a new tack -- tax cuts, although apparently not for journalists.

Juppe met with a delegation from the unaffiliated National Journalists' Union Monday, and late Monday issued a statement that appeared to backtrack.

He said he had asked Jean Arthuis, the finance minister, to make sure the repeal does not "disadvantage'' those benefiting most from the tax exemption. The exemption has a $10,000 ceiling, which means journalists hardest hit would be those earning the least.

The average monthly wage for the French news media is $2,500 to $3,000 a month, about on a par with an American counterpart. But there is one French journalist for about every 2,000 French citizens, compared to one for every 5,000 people in the United States.

The 30-percent exemption on declared earnings would be phased out over five years and might be tempered by new tax benefits for journalists implied in Juppe's statement. Formal debate on next year's budget, including these tax measures, began Tuesday in the National Assembly.

As news of the doomed tax exemption circulated, legislators who refused to denounce it were given the "invisible man'' treatment: a selective boycott of news makers. That is, their names and pictures suddenly stopped appearing on the air and in the papers.