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Funding and organisation of public service broadcasting

Gabriel Tar, Head of European and International Affairs, Directorate for Media Development, French Government
Saturday 22 November 2008
Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism
The draft broadcasting lawThe objectives of the current reform is to create public service broadcasters which serves media pluralism, viewers interests, and programming which distinguishes itself from private television. It should also help public television take risks and provide interesting, entertaining and pluralistic programming that is freed from commercial constraints. It should bring culture to the population while remaining accessible and not becoming a reserve of the elite.  It should also serve citizens by providing them with information on issues affecting society, and a forum for free expression where a plurality of beliefs and views can be heard. Public broadcasters should also play an active role in information technology, using media such as the internet to strengthen bonds with the viewers and allow viewers to interact with each other. Public television should also play a key role helping France find its place in Europe, by improving a sense of belonging in Europe while inviting European neighbours into France. The bar will be set higher than required, with 70% of public service programming of European origin, 50% French, more than the official requirement of 60% and 40% respectively. To help facilitate these reforms, France 2, 3, 4, 5, and Réseau France Outre mer will be grouped together as a single company to gain from economies of scale.  The objective of this new organi-sation will be to compete on the international stage with broadcasters such as the BBC, Al Jazeera and CNN. A new model of governance will be developed so that it is possible to evaluate whether objectives are reached.  This new structure will also incorporate all new technology platforms to reach the widest possible audience and ensure that France télévisions becomes a global media.  Under the new model, the state will once again nominate the president of France Télévisions and help public broadcasters meet their objectives of pluralism and independence.  France Télévisions will be guaranteed a certain level of investment and its relationship with the state will be managed through contracts which will define objectives and means. The funding structure will change with the gradual elimination of advertising during programming.  Public service broadcasting will be freed from audience ratings.  Though audience levels will still be tracked, they will not be divided into targets and segments.  Audience satisfaction will be measured with qualitative evaluations to ensure that programming remains of high quality. France Télévisions will have a steady stream of public funds through a licence fee indexed to inflation.  Compensation for lost advertising revenue will also come from a 3% tax on advertising run on private television.  A tax of 0.9% will be imposed on operators of electronic services to help finance public service audiovisual services. Alain Belais, Director of International Relations, France Télévisions President Sarkozy's reforms came at a crucial moment in broadcasting. The current market is unfavourable to generalist television with the explosion in the number of free channels and audiences increasingly abandoning television for the internet. While there has been a lot of confusion over the various economic models, France Telévisions always managed to function well within the system of advertising and ratings.  Ratings provided a real indicator of audience preferences. France Télévisions has consistently provided a unique service as the primary source of televised public and political debate. During the last presidential campaign, France Télévisions offered over 400 hours of political programming across its channels, compared with only 53 hours on the private broadcaster TF1. France Télévisions also offers a wide range of cultural programs and invests heavily in creative programming. This will continue under the new remit, with more science, concerts, culture and a higher level of European and French programming than officially required. The reforms will be deemed successful provided that France Télévisions avoids elitism, maintains high audience ratings and benefits from a sustainable economic model which guarantees adequate public financing. Tim Gardam, OFCOM Board Member & Principal, St Anne's College, Oxford Two main challenges to the digital future emerged from a recent OFCOM International conference attended by both French and British delegates.  The first is the pressing need to move to-wards universal access to broadband and view it as a civic right.  The second is the increased need for intervention into certain types of content to counter the surfeit of content. It will equally be important to reconsider how these issues will connect to the wider context of public service television. Before the advent of OFCOM as a converged regulator in 2003, the television industry in Britain didn’t think beyond its own sector and into the digital world.  OFCOM also helped develop access to broadband with the drive of digital. The different funding models of the terrestrial channels only worked when there was spectrum scarcity. ITV, though a privately owned and commercially funded channel has to provide certain types of programming in exchange for its licence and access to audiences. With the explosion of channels, this model is breaking down. The British public continues to think that public service broadcasting is important and that the BBC shouldn't be the only provider of such programming. The production of certain genres is particularly important and unlikely to be provided in a market context: news, children's programming, history and science programs, drama and narrative comedy. Yet it remains unclear how to continue to provide such programming. Channel 4 is essential to challenging the BBC and without it, the BBC would become a monopoly and its identity would change.  The public does not want this but it remains unclear how to find viable models which allow various forms of public service broadcasting to survive. Based on OFCOM's analysis, between 145-200 million GBP needs to be found to allow public service broadcasting to continue at its current level.

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