July 15. 2024. 7:11

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Privatisation of French public broadcasting possible if RN comes to power

The French far right, united behind the Rassemblement National (RN), has made the carve-up and sale of public broadcasting one of its priorities, although the details of the sale remain unknown.

This measure was already included in Marine le Pen’s programme for the 2022 presidential election, in order, she explained at the time, to “abolish the licence fee” and “immediately restore purchasing power to households, from the most modest to the middle classes”.

“The figures put forward by the RN make no sense, no concrete privatisation plan has been presented, they are just incantations to be seen in the context of the legislative elections”, explains media historian Alexis Lévrier for Euractiv.

Privatisation already contested

The details of this privatisation are not detailed in the RN’s programmes.

“If the RN comes to power, the privatisation project will quickly be abandoned,” says Alexis Lévrier.

“The far right always prefers to take control of the public media, which are extraordinary communication tools, rather than dismantle them. That’s what we’re seeing in Hungary and Italy”.

The RN regularly accuses the public media of carrying left-wing ideas. A decade ago, Marine le Pen called for exemple France Inter a “bolcho [Bolshevik] radio station”.

“The RN’s plan to privatise is an ideological one, aimed at getting rid of France 2 television and France Inter radio, two channels considered to be ‘nests of leftists’, even though this is of course totally untrue,” Serge Cimino, a delegate from France télévision’s Syndicat national des journalistes (SNJ), told Euractiv.

“We’re prepared to talk to serious people, even if it means fighting their proposals, but what we’re dealing with here are amateurs who haven’t worked on their brief,” he adds.

The RN denies any desire to influence the line taken by the public media should the far-right party come to power, but this is far from convincing the employees of the channels concerned.

On the set of France 3 Alpes on Sunday 16 June, outgoing RN deputy Alexis Jolly explained to the journalist interviewing him that he “felt sorry for [him]”, hoping that he would be able to “find good working conditions again”, and assuring that “we will take care of [him]”.

These thinly veiled threats forced the journalist to “come out of [his] reserve”, as he himself explained, stressing that some of his colleagues were “worried”, and that “public service in general [was] the heritage of those who don’t have it”.

Funding problems

These privatisation announcements come at a time when a brand new European Media Freedom Act was adopted by the European Parliament on 14 March.

This law requires EU Member States to guarantee the independence of the media, protect journalists from political or economic interference and defend public broadcasting, as noted by the newspaper Marianne.

The European Media Freedom Act does not specify that all privatisation is prohibited, but the text does impose obligations on EU Member States, particularly with regard to the funding of existing public broadcasters, as explained by the entourage of outgoing MEP Geoffroy Didier (LR, EPP), one of the text’s rapporteurs.

“Public service broadcasting plays a special role in the media market, ensuring that citizens and businesses benefit from impartial news coverage”, the text states. “Its funding must be transparent, sustainable and predictable”.

For the time being – and without even mentioning privatisation – this is far from being the case in France. On 24 and 26 June 2024, the National Assembly was due to examine a bill providing for the creation of a holding company 100% owned by the State, which was to bring together all of France’s public radio and television stations.

The dissolution initiated by President Emmanuel Macron on 9 June interrupted the debates. This is a matter of urgency, given that the transitional funding mechanism put in place following the abolition of the licence fee in 2022 is due to expire at the end of 2024.

In the absence of a new agreement, from next year the public media could be funded directly from the state budget, pending a hypothetical privatisation should the far right come to power.

Read more with Euractiv

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