France’s lower and upper houses of parliament “definitively adopted” a cost-of-living crisis budget package late Thursday containing legislation scrapping the country’s 89-year-old TV license.
The package, which has spent the last three weeks passing through the country’s Chamber of Deputies and Senate, was signed off on by a joint committee consisting of members of both houses.
French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said the budget – representing some $20b in savings and support aimed at tackling the cost-of-living crisis – had been “definitively adopted”.
The scrapping of the license fee was precipitated by an election campaign promise by President Emmanuel Macron last March.
The move has raised wide-ranging questions about the long-term future of France’s public broadcasting sector, both in terms of its funding and its structure, and could set a precedent for other territories where public sector broadcaster funding is also under review.
Under the emergency legislation, payment of the fee, currently set at €138 ($141) per year, will not be collected this autumn.
Some 23m households previously paid the fee, raising around €3.2b for 2022 and providing the lion’s share of funding for France Télévisions, Radio France, Franco-German broadcaster Arte and international TV channels France 24 and RFI.
Macron’s government, led by Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, proposed that the funding now be provided out of revenues raised via value-added Tax (VAT). However, a Senate amendment to the budget bill has set a time limit for this funding method, making it a temporary measure that cannot go beyond December 31, 2024.
France’s Syndicate of Independent Producers (SPI), which represents some 470 independent film and TV companies, put out a statement on Thursday calling for a “proper consultation” on the financing of the state broadcasting sector from this autumn.
“The ending of the TV license has taken place with the greatest haste, to be replaced firstly by funding from the general state budget, then at the risk of constitutional censure, by an allotment out of the revenues raised by the value-added tax ( VAT),” the body wrote.
“What guarantees are there for the independence of public broadcasting, now dependent on a share of VAT? Without supervision or additional guarantees, the amount allocated to public media will be reviewed each year, with the risk of being lowered each year, in the name of budgetary imperatives and to force the reorganization of the sector,” it said.
The body also questioned how objectives and budgets previously set between the government and the state broadcasters could be maintained for another year, as promised by Culture Minister Rima Abdul Malak, given that these agreements run over a number of years.
The government has batted back suggestions that the independence of state broadcasters is at stake saying that the Arcom broadcasting authority (ex-CSA) will continue to have the final say on the sector.
The Spi said in its statement, however, that there needed to be more clarity in terms of Arcom’s future role, given the body currently does not have oversight of state broadcasting budgets.
The syndicate said the most urgent question was how the sector would be financed as of January 1, 2025.
“It is urgent to initiate, without delay, in-depth work on the financing of public broadcasting, with a view to adopting a fairer, more sustainable, dedicated and dynamic system, which will allow public media to carry out their missions in the duration ,” it said.
“Let us ensure that the abolition of the license fee is not the prelude to a regulated cutting of the public media and their means, but on the contrary the opportunity for in-depth consultation on the financing and the long-term organization of this common heritage.”