France bans adverts on state TV during prime time

French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s controversial cultural revolution of the country’s television industry began on Monday night as public service broadcasting (PSB) channels scrapped evening prime-time advertising, amid an outcry from journalists and strike action planned for this week.

Described as a “big bang”, Sarkozy’s plans to transform state broadcaster France Télévisions have sparked protests by journalists and 80 hours of heated rows in Parliament. Critics have likened him to Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi for trying to wrest control of the nation’s airwaves.

Sarkozy studied the BBC model before declaring advertising would be gradually banned from France’s five state channels by 2011, beginning with prime time. He claims scrapping advertising would free state television to be more creative and public service-minded.

But journalists’ unions are concerned over the potential loss of advertising funding for PSB. Opposition politicians said Sarkozy was handing a gift to his media baron friends in French commercial television, who would reap huge financial benefits as advertising is transferred to their channels.

Last night from 8pm more than 20-million French prime-time viewers were able to watch PSB channels without the traditional 20-minute block of advertising between the end of the evening news at 8.30pm and the start of evening entertainment programming at 8.50pm. Advertising on PSB channels will now stop at 8pm and start again at 6am the following day.

This advertising window, which dominates all main French television channels, is crucial in a country where far more people watch evening television news than buy newspapers. About 40% of French people eat dinner while watching the 8pm television news.

Sarkozy plans to make up the loss of funds by taxing commercial television advertising revenue and introducing a tax on internet and telephone providers, resulting in €450-millionof funding for 2009.

But journalists say budgets will suffer. Staff at France Télévisions’s France 3 network launched strike action, disrupting production of news bulletins.—



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