Since French President Emmanuel Macron announced the dissolution the Assemblée Nationale on June 9, employees of seven public radio stations (France Inter, Franceinfo, France Bleu, France Culture, France Musique, FIP and Mouv’) and six TV channels (France 2, France 3, France 4, Culturebox, France 5 and FranceTVinfo) realized that dark times lie ahead if the far right comes to power on Sunday, July 7.

The privatization of France Télévisions and Radio France was already included in Marine Le Pen’s policy platform during the 2022 presidential election. (France Médias Monde, in charge of international broadcasting, and French-German TV channel Arte would be spared, while the National Audiovisual Institute would join the National Archives.) At the time, the far-right Rassemblement National (RN) candidate promised to “privatize public broadcasting in order to abolish the €138 license fee,” the amount paid each year by French households owning a television set – with most low-income families being exempt. Macron also made this abolition a campaign promise.

That fee was indeed terminated on July 23, 2022, when the bill formalizing its elimination passed its first reading in the Assemblée Nationale. Although brief, the debate was lively, and the 170 votes in favor (57 against, out of 577 MPs) were won when the president’s coalition and the right-wing Les Républicains put forward another, albeit provisional, financing system independent of the state budget: the allocation of a fraction of VAT.

The RN, which wanted to go even further, could have asked for more. But it too threw in its support. The first step toward weakening public broadcasting had been taken.

When Culture Minister Rachida Dati undertook, soon after her appointment in January, to “bring together the forces” of public broadcasting to centralize them within a single company, the RN once again gave its approval. “The holding company and the merger are going in the right direction,” MP Philippe Ballard was pleased to tell Le Monde on May 17.

Potential media behemoth

The “right direction” toward privatization? Certainly not. Even if all the existing French and European anti-competitive barriers were overcome, a merger would result in a behemoth with over 13,000 employees, for whom it would not be $easy to find a buyer – unless that buyer didn’t care about profitability. Moreover, neither the outlines, the objectives or the legal, technical and even constitutional feasibility of privatization seem to have been the subject of in-depth reflection within the RN, as demonstrated by the contradictory statements of its elected representatives. Nor has the obligation imposed by the European Union on its member states to defend their public broadcasters since the entry into force on May 7 of the European Media Freedom Act, a regulation designed to protect the independence, freedom and pluralism of the media.

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