State funding must protect French public broadcast media from political pressure, RSF says
Concerned by the French government’s plan to abolish a licence fee that funds France’s public broadcast media, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on parliament to establish multiyear funding for the public broadcast media from the state budget to protect them from political pressure, and to create an independent authority to oversee their funding.
The French cabinet approved a 2022 budget amendment bill on 7 July that would immediately scrap the Public Broadcasting Contribution (CAP), a tax levied annually on every household with a TV set – currently 138 euros per household in mainland France – that generates more than 3 billion euros in funding for the French public media every year.
Under the bill approved by the cabinet, which the National Assembly will examine this week, CAP funding would be replaced by an “ad hoc budgetary assignment” allocating funding for the public broadcast media directly from the state budget.
But no specific provision guarantees this funding over several years or protects it from future political pressure. So, if the bill is left unchanged, public media funding would be vulnerable to annual political wrangling and to potential budget cuts for the sake of other government priorities.
“Parliamentarians should establish strong legislative guarantees for public media funding based on the principles of sustainability and independence,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “Public broadcasting plays an irreplaceable role at a time when access to reliable, independent and pluralist news and information is threatened by the interests of certain commercial media owners and by the spread of disinformation on social media. Funding for public media should be on a long term basis in order to safeguard their editorial freedom. Or else our democracy will pay the price.”
RSF calls on parliament to ensure that the next public finance planning law safeguards predictable funding for the public media on the specific grounds of the constitutional importance of media pluralism and independence, as established in the Constitutional Council’s 2009 decision on public broadcasting. Funding for the public broadcast media should be exempted from monthly or quarterly adjustments so that it cannot be reduced in the course of the year.
Although parliament has the final say on public broadcast media funding, RSF calls for the creation of an independent body tasked with issuing an opinion on the annual sum earmarked for the public media in the state budget and its multiyear trajectory. This body should consist of independent, recognised experts.
This proposal is similar to those recently made by the general inspectorates of finance and cultural affairs, and in a report by two senators, Roger Karoutchi and Jean-Raymond Hugonet, on 8 June. This report recommends the creation of a Public Broadcasting Oversight Authority (ASAP) consisting of a judge from the Court of Auditors – who would chair it – and four qualified experts, all elected by parliament. The report says: “The ASAP’s proposal would commit neither the government nor parliament but would oblige both to give explanations in the event that its recommendation is not followed.”
France is ranked 26th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2022 World Press Freedom Index.