Staff at French state broadcasting companies France Télévisions, Radio France and France Media Monde were due to strike today in protest of government plans to phase out the TV license fee which traditionally finances their services.
From early morning, 24-hour cable news channel France Info was re-running feature reports with a crawl that read the channel has been disrupted by the movement, while its radio equivalent was playing music rather than a steady stream of news. Top free-to-air generalist channel France 2 was re-running clips from its morning show Télématin.
Thousands of TV and radio workers were expected to take part in a demonstration in front of the National Assembly parliament building in central Paris later in the day.
The TV license fee, currently at 138 euros ($146) per household per year, helps fund public broadcasters and radio stations, but the government wants to replace it with a budget that would cover several years.
President Emmanuel Macron announced the measure during his election campaign in March, much to the alarm of the country’s audiovisual sector.
Authorities have maintained that removing the fee would not lead to a reduction in funding, but unions – spanning the CGT, CFDT, FO, SNJ, SUD, Unsa, CGC and the CFTC – say the move will leave a 3.7 billion euros ($3.9 billion) funding hole.
The government is planning to push through the measure as part of an upcoming bill aimed at tackling the cost-of-living crisis, which is due to be put to a parliamentary vote on July 6. If the bill does not pass, the license fee will remain in place for now.
Beyond fears around the future of the TV license, state broadcaster employees are also concerned about plans to merge France Télévisions, Radio France, France Médias Monde and INA from 2025 into a single public company called France Médias
If the phasing out of the license fee is passed on July 6, the unions fear these fusion plans will accelerate.
“Public sector broadcasting employs not only tens of thousands of people in the audiovisual sector in France but also commissions a large majority of films and programming made by independent producers,” said William Maunier, General Secretary of French union, SNRT-CGT Audiovisuel, and President of the European sector of UNI Media, Entertainment & Arts.
“But this is not just a question of jobs or funding, it is about maintaining the independence of French media, it’s about the plurality of programming and it’s about our cultural diversity. Public broadcasting serves all parts of society and that is what we are fighting for,” he added.
UNI Media, which represents 500,000 workers in the media, entertainment and arts sectors worldwide, says what is happening in France is part of a wider trend of governments trying to defund or dismantle public broadcasting across Europe.
The body pointed to recent attempts by the Flemish government to cut funding for state Flemish-language broadcaster VRT; moves to freeze the license fee in the UK as well as privatize Channel 4, and the suppression of editorial freedom in Poland, Hungary and Slovenia.
“In several countries, there is pressure to downsize public broadcasting, which is perceived as a thorn in the side to government policies. Then we see the danger of financing being used to discipline or limit the role of public service broadcasters,” said Johannes Studinger, Head of UNI Media, Entertainment & Arts.
“Undermining public broadcasting shrinks the civic space for everyone,” he continued. “The license fee gives public broadcasters the liberty needed to fulfil their mission to support communities and cultural diversity as well as provide quality, trustworthy, unbiased reporting – especially important in a time of rising nationalism and fake news.”
Uni Media is the media and entertainment arm of Uni Global Union which represents more than 20 million workers in different sectors worldwide.