Despite widespread recognition for their vital role during the COVID-19 pandemic, public media organisations in France are still grappling with cost-cutting measures that were announced in 2018.

Last week, the newly appointed Culture Minister, Roselyne Bachelot, announced the closure of France Télévisions’ international channel France Ô, while postponing the closure of France 4a channel that specialises in programming for children and young people for one year. Both channels were initially scheduled to go off-air on 9 August, but France 4 has been given the reprieve in recognition of the vital educational services it provided for children while schools were shut during the country’s lockdown.  

In her presentation to media regulator Le Conseil supérieur de l’audiovisuel (CSA), Delphine Ernotte – who recently secured a second five-year term as Director-General of France Télévisions – emphasised her priority for the public broadcaster to invest more in programming for young people and maintain France 4. It is the first time that the CSA has extended the mandate of an incumbent DG. Until 2015, appointments were made by the French President. 

But France Ô is scheduled to go off-air on 23 August as the broadcaster focuses more on its multiplatform web portal for international territories, ‘Outre-mer la 1ère’. Advanced Television describes the platform as effectively becoming the new bridge between overseas territories and the audience in France. Yet many, such as Didier Givodan, a representative of the Syndicat national des journalistes (SNJ), oppose this move saying that the web portal should complement” France Ô not replace it.”  No jobs are expected to be lost in this transition, but reports suggest that the financial challenges are far from over. 

COVID-19, along with the postponement of the Toyko Olympic games, has also added to French public media’s financial pressures. In June, France Télévisions revealed that it was predicting a shortfall of around €55 million from lost advertising revenue at a time when public television was already due to make savings of around 160 million by 2022. It is taking measures to reduce this impact, such as presenting its board of directors with a new budget forecast. 

Meanwhile, unions representing many of Radio France’s employees are calling on the Culture Minister to revise cost-cutting plans, which aim to provide 60 million in savings and cut around 250 jobs. In a letter to Bachelot the group wrote: The State must imperatively, in consultation with Radio France, redefine the budgetary trajectory so that our company can continue to play its role fully.” Negotiations between stakeholders have since been put on hold.  


Other plans for French public media have also been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Discussions about reforming the audio-visual law for 2021 were due to take place in a public hearing in the French Assembly and Senate earlier this year, but as Bachelot explained, “We will not have time, because of everything imposed on us by the pandemic crisis, to examine the creation of a public audio-visual superstructure.” The law was meant to create some of the biggest changes to the sector in recent years, including the merger of Radio France, France Télévisions, France Médias Monde and The National Audiovisual Institute (INA) under one holding company, ‘France Médias’.  

Other suggested reforms included subjecting streaming platforms, such as Netflix and Amazon, to the same funding obligations as traditional channels by contributing around a quarter of their turnover to financing local content production. Another consideration was the creation of a new audio-visual and communications regulatory authority by merging the CSA and Hadopi – the body that polices illegal downloading.   

The full launch of Salto, a new streaming service offered by France Télévisions in collaboration with commercial broadcasters TF1 and M6, is now likely to be rescheduled for Autumn. It was initially due to launch in June but was delayed due to the lockdown measures implemented in France. According to Salto CEO, Thomas Follin, the streaming service – which the broadcasters intend on investing close-to €250 million across the next three years will make around 20,000 hours of content available, consisting of on-demand and catch-up programming as well as live channels. It is currently running multiple tests ahead of the launch. 

 In other news 
  • France Télévisions is looking to support Lebanon after the recent explosion in the capital city, Beirut, with a charity concert 
  • Radio France, alongside Arte, ZDF and NHK, has launched a major public consultation to engage young people under35 to tell the precise story of the world they inherit” by discussing topics that matter most to them. ‘It is time’ consists of a 133-question survey that will be analysed by sociologists and statisticians and will run until November 2020. Find out more. 

Header image: France Télévisions’ building in Paris. Credits: Omarukai/Creative Commons