Sarkozy rules out privatising public TV

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who announced the elimination of advertising from state-owned television channels last month, said on Tuesday that they would not be privatised. He pledged budget funds and a tax on new media to replace ad revenues.


PARIS - President Nicolas Sarkozy, who wants to eliminate commercials from French public broadcasting, said on Tuesday he would not privatise France Televisions, which groups the country's public broadcasting channels. 

He said the government could inject funds into France Televisions from 2008, amid worries among staff at public broadcasters about the future of their channel and jobs and a television and radio strike last week. 

"I asked the government to look into the possibility of adding funds to France Televisions from 2008," Sarkozy said. 

Sarkozy spoke as he launched a new commission on public television, which is charged with coming up with proposals on how to implement the reforms before the end of May. 

Unions say the project has not been fully thought out and have warned the state broadcasting sector risks losing funds and audience share as a result. 


In a surprise move, Sarkozy announced last month he wanted to scrap ads on public TV and radio, funding the revenue shortfall with a tax on private channels and on new technologies, such as the Internet and mobile phones.

The proposal, which would bring France closer to the British BBC model and has been is branded by some observers as the biggest change in the French TV advertising market for 40 years, is officially aimed at encouraging good-quality programming. 

"The public sector must not be bread and circuses," Sarkozy said on Tuesday, adding he wanted to free public broadcasting from what he said was the tyranny of audience ratings. 

The reform is widely seen as a boon for private broadcasters TF1 and M6, which could grab the bulk of the estimated one billion euros ($1.5 billion) in advertising revenue that would exit public channels. 

The idea is already drawing concern from advertisers and buyers of ad space who fear that reduced competition for TF1 and M6 would allow them to hike TV ad-space prices. 

Sarkozy provided only a few more clues on funding plans for public broadcasters on Tuesday. He said he did not plan to tax private radio or newspapers and repeated that, "Each euro in less advertising revenue for the public service will be offset by one euro in public funds." 

Sarkozy asked the commission to consider either eliminating all advertising from public broadcasting from January 1, 2009 or reducing it progressively from that date.

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