French MPs Vote To Abolish TV License Fee; Move Prompts Fears Over Future Broadcaster Independence

French MPs have voted to end the TV licence fee as part of a bill aimed at tackling the country’s cost of living crisis, in a move that has provoked fears over the future independence of French state broadcasters.

Under the bill, more than 23 million French households will no longer pay the annual fee currently set at 138 euros ($141) per household. As of this October, families will not be billed for the fee and any households that paid it in advance will be reimbursed.

The so-called “redevance audiovisuelle” has funded French state radio stations since 1933, and broadcasters since 1948. It is currently the main source of income for France Télévisions, Radio France, Franco-German broadcaster Arte and international TV channels France 24 and RFI.

The government has said that the move will not jeopardise the funding of state broadcasters and that the finance will be replaced by a slight rise in VAT. The licence fee raised some $3.1b in 2020 to which the government added an additional $666m.

Budgets for 2022 are not under threat but there are fears that the state broadcasting sector could fall prey to political pressure when funding comes up for re-negotiation in the future, depending on the government of the day.

Staff from across the state broadcasting sector held a one-day strike against the move on June 28 and are likely to stage further industrial action in the autumn.

Another issue for the sector is a plan to merge France Télévisions, Radio France, France Médias Monde and INA from 2025 into a single public company called France Médias. The abolition of the licence fee was seen as a keep step in this strategy.

France’s move to scrap the licence fee coincides with a similar debate in the UK, where the future of the BBC licence fee is currently under review and moves are afoot to privatise Channel 4 under plans of the ruling Conservative Party government.

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