AFP - France's public television network voted Tuesday to scrap prime-time advertising on its channels, green-lighting a contested government reform that has become mired in a bitter parliamentary battle.
President Nicolas Sarkozy's government asked the head of France Televisions, Patrick de Carolis, to have the reform approved directly, to short-circuit opposition attempts to filibuster the reform bill in parliament.
Socialist lawmakers have filed hundreds of amendments to obstruct the passage of a broadcasting bill that would end advertising on France Televisions and see the head of the group appointed directly by the president.
Public radio and television staff have staged a wave of protests and strikes against the reform, which they see as a threat to the independence of public broadcasting, although Sarkozy insists it will help boost programme quality.
The board of France Televisions voted by nine to two in favour of ending advertising after 8:00 pm (1900 GMT) across the group's four national channels, with effect on January 5, ahead of a blanket ban in 2011.
Carolis said he acted in the "higher interest" of the network, which has geared up for the transition to ad-free programming, with schedules already drawn up for the New Year.
But Socialist Party spokesman Benoit Hamon accused Carolis of bowing to the government's will, saying it was a bad sign for French broadcasting.
"In future the head of public broadcasting will be a mere channel for the choices of the president of the republic," he charged.
Debate on the broadcasting bill, which started three weeks ago in parliament, was scheduled for a vote on December 9 but has become bogged down in a bitter war with the left-wing opposition.
The article on advertising was adopted Friday in the lower-house National Assembly with the entire bill set to be put to the vote on Wednesday.
But the bill still needs approval from the upper house Senate, which is not to start examining it until January 7.
Championed by Sarkozy, the legislation would give the government authority to directly name the head of France Televisions, scrapping the current appointment procedure through an independent body.
The reform has been attacked as a bid to assert greater state power over the media, while handing a revenue boon to private broadcasters such as TF1, owned by Martin Bouygues, a friend of the president.
The advertising ban will be offset by two new taxes, on Internet service providers and another on the extra ad revenue channelled to private television networks.
The 450 million euros (615 million dollars) needed to plug the revenue gap have already been written into the 2009 French budget.