France’s funny ways

In January, The Independent newspaper announced that “One of Nicolas Sarkozy’s most visible, and most controversial, attempts to transform the French way of life will take effect from 8 p.m. tonight.”

In January, The Independent newspaper announced that “One of Nicolas Sarkozy’s most visible, and most controversial, attempts to transform the French way of life will take effect from 8 p.m. tonight. Advertising will vanish from primetime on all state-owned television channels as part of an attempt by the president to create, in his own words, a public television service to ‘rival the quality of the BBC.'”

When I read this I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to think, “this kind of thing can happen only in France” or “but I thought his pretentious group of friends owned the media industry?”

I was confronted with the groundbreaking truth from France: The ban of primetime commercials has provoked strikes by television journalists. According to The Independent, “journalists at France 3 will go on strike today and their colleagues at France 2 will stop work tomorrow, in protest against what they see as an attempt to undermine the quality and independence of news gathering on the state-owned channels.”

If you know anything about France, then you probably sensed my sarcasm, and this “strike” should not come to you as a surprise. However if you did not, here is a valuable lesson my French teacher taught me last year: When you go to France, the most important word to know is “grève.” In English, “to strike.”

On a more serious note, what happened to Sarkozy’s friendship with the media? I find this law passing rather ironic since Sarkozy’s bubble consists of media bosses like Martin Bouygues, head of France’s biggest private television broadcaster TF1 and also businessman Vincent Ballore, who I am almost positive was photographed with Sarkozy on his yacht after his 2007 election.

Regardless, I am confident Sarkozy has good intentions. At least he should, because why else would France’s left-leaning newspaper, Libération, coin the term “France Sarkozvision” while describing the new French public television system without having a good reason behind it? I think that whatever the critics allege was the fundamental reason behind this is only giving you the tip of the iceberg.

Currently, the state-owned channels are funded partly by advertising and partly by a television license. This costs €116 ($147.66), rising to €118 ($150.21) or €119 ($151.48) this year, compared to 139.50 pounds for a color television license in Britain.

When the legislation was complete, the €450 ($572.85) a year lost by the state channels in primetime advertising was refunded by a tax on the ad revenue of private channels. In 2011, state channels will also have to give up advertising in the morning, afternoon and early evenings.

To my knowledge, this “too good to be true” news had to have something sneaky behind it.

After some research, I uncovered that, according to the Deutsche Welle newspaper, “the new ban will be offset by two new taxes: a 0.9 percent tax on revenue of Internet service suppliers and telephone operators, and a tax on advertising revenue of private TV channels ranging from 1.5 to 3 percent.”

This is true, but if you read between the lines, the real reason Sarkozy moved to ban ads is to camouflage TF1 (as mentioned earlier, the most widely watched station in France that is owned by Bouygues) from the fact that they will win much of the advertising lost by France’s public networks.

In simpler terms, the ban will allow the big private channels to introduce more advertising breaks and up to nine minutes of advertising an hour instead of the present six.

It is incredible how fast this all made sense. By passing this ban, Sarkozy was not ending the friendships he once had with his media crew. Instead, he was giving them more minutes to add to advertising. Smooth move, Mr. President. I can’t believe I didn’t think of this earlier.