This article was originally published in the GALA Gazette, Volume III, Issue II.

Declaration of the French President triggers strike of the French Public TV Channels

The First Major Strike since 1974:

In 1974 the French President, Jacques Chirac, announced that the public Agency of the French Radio and Television (ORTF, "Office de la Radio et de la Télévision Française") was going to be broken up into seven independent companies, which included the French public TV Channels and Radio (in particular what is now "France Télévisions", i.e., France 2, France 3, France 4, France 5 and RFO, as well as "Radio France", the French public radio). This announcement gave rise to significant strikes.

On January 8, 2008, when the current President, Nicolas Sarkozy, announced that he envisaged a total ban on the advertising on the French public TV channels, most of the representatives of the French TV channels, as well as the trade unions of the public audiovisual sectors, were very surprised.

Then, the surprise made way for anxiety/anger from the parties concerned: how to find approximately 1.2 billion euros (800 millions euros of lost advertising proceeds, in addition to the cost borne by the public TV channels for the creation of TV programs destined to replace the banned advertising)?

On February 12, 2008, the trade unions of the public audiovisual sector have been invited to address the issues of the reform of the audiovisual public service with the Deputy Director ("Directeur Adjoint") of the Department of the Culture and the Communication.

The representatives of this Department ensured the trade unions that the aim of this reform is not to reduce the scope of action of the public channels. They also guaranteed that there will be no privatization of the public TV channels and that the loss generated by the ban on advertising will be compensated entirely.

While the French Government refuses to increase the TV tax ("redevance audiovisuelle"), which is paid by all French people owning a TV set and which goes to the French public TV channels, it is, however, working on other ways to compensate such loss of sales: for instance, through the taxation of the mobile phones and Internet access and service providers (since they generate a lot of profits thanks to the new technology activities), or through an increase in the taxes paid by the private TV channels.

However, the trade unions are not satisfied with this approach: they consider that Mr. Sarkozy's announcement, which is likely to throw the public audiovisual sector into confusion, should have been presented with a precise financial plan.

While the public TV channels and radios clearly disapproved this planned reform, the French President had a commission set up to work on defining a new public television and its financing, with a deadline at the end of May 2008 for a report.

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