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MONEY

EXPLAINED: What France’s TV licence pays for and what might replace it?

As promised by President Emmanuel Macron during his presidential campaign, the TV licence in France is set to be abolished this year, as part of a bill to put money back into the pockets of French people. But could it be replaced by something else?

Televisions. Photo by Nabil Saleh on Unsplash
Televisions. Photo by Nabil Saleh on Unsplash

The “purchasing power” law containing the measure is to be presented to the Council of Ministers on Wednesday, July 6th. If it is adopted, it will save those households who pay for the redevance audiovisuelle in France €138 a year.

But what is the redevance audiovisuelle , and what does it pay for?

What is it?

The annual TV licence raises €3.7billion a year, which is ploughed into public broadcasting. 

Of the total amount raised annually, 65 percent is allocated to France Télévisions, 15.9 percent to Radio France, 7.5 percent to Arte, 7 percent to France Médias Monde, 2.4 percent to audiovisual archive agency INA and 2.1 percent to TV5 Monde, a Senate report has revealed.

It alone is not enough to cover all the recipients overheads – for example, the sum paid to Radio France accounts for 86.4 percent of its budget. The remainder is made up through advertising and other state subsidies.

Who pays?

The €138 annual TV licence bill is paid by every household in France equipped with a television set – or “similar device”, such as a video projector or computer capable of showing TV broadcasts.

People living in France’s overseas territories currently pay €88 a year.

In 2022, 27.61 million households are subject to it and 22.89 million actually pay it, according to a report by the Jean-Jaurès Foundation and economist Julia Cagé.

It has historically been paid as part of the taxe d’habitation bill, which is also in the process of being cancelled by the government, while older people and those on low incomes are already exempt from paying the annual fee.

Why is it being cancelled?

The key reason the government keeps talking about is purchasing power. 

 “This will give €138 to 27 million French people,” Gabriel Attal, Minister of Public Accounts, told France Inter. “What we’re removing, it is not a budget, it is a tax that many said was dated.”

Macron’s election pledge on the TV licence was hardly unique. Almost all the other candidates in the presidential campaign had pledged to axe the annual fee, which was paid as part of the taxe d’habitation bill – which has also been abolished for most households in France.

€3.7billion is a lot of money. Will anything replace it?

This the big question – and the parliamentary debate is expected to get heated. A number of plans have been put forward for covering the costs, including a means-tested contribution payable by households, or an additional tax on the price of digital products.

For the moment, the government favours the integration of the public media budget into government funding, which would require approval from Parliament. 

During his presidential campaign, Macron proposed to define, “a budget with multi-year visibility”, whose amount would be fixed for several years. Culture Minister Rima Abdul Malak told France Inter recently that this remained the new government’s preferred avenue.

Will this proposed method work?

Not everyone is convinced. A study published by the European Audiovisual Observatory in February 2022 concluded that “the independence and programming freedom of public broadcasting are closely linked to the need for broadcasters to be able to count on an adequate financing system”.

Unions and cultural experts are concerned about the possibility that independence would be eroded if financing was linked to the government of the time. Bruno Patino, the head of Arte France, said in a statement to AFP that he feared for his channel’s future if the funding model changed.

“The disadvantage of budgeting is that we are much less protected from the vagaries of politics, since the latter decides on the budget,” cultural economist – and critic of the plans – Françoise Benhamou told Le Monde

Opponents are also concerned that public broadcasting budgets would be too easily cut. “From the moment there is no more dedicated funding and we have to draw from the general state budget, we will end up being told that it all costs too much and that we have to cut expenses or  close a channel, or even, as we already hear sometimes, privatize,”Senator David Assouline told a demonstration organised by the public media unions. 

How is the licence fee paid elsewhere?

Italians pay their licence fees as part of their electricity bill. In Germany, the licence fee is collected by an agency that is run and operated by the channels themselves. 

In Sweden, Norway and Finland, licence fees have been replaced by a progressive tax. In Sweden, for example, a levy of one percent of taxable income, up to a limit of €126, is paid; in Finland, companies rather than households pay the tax; and in Norway, a scale by bracket has been defined.

In Spain and Netherlands, the budget for public media is integrated directly into that of the State.

What do French people think?

Unsurprisingly, they’re overwhelmingly in favour of scrapping the TV licence fee – a survey in 2019 found that 85 percent of French people liked the idea of abolishing it.

They’re less enamoured of the idea that the €3.7billion lost to public broadcasting should be covered by part of the government budget – and therefore paid by taxes. Only 20.9 percent were in favour of “a contribution levied each year on the state budget,” according to a June 2022 survey by the Jean-Jaurès Foundation. 

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FRENCH POLITICS

What now for France’s public service broadcasters after TV licence axed?

Questions remain over the future of France’s public service broadcasters after bill abolishing annual €138 licence fee leaves future funding plans for the broadcasters vague.

What now for France's public service broadcasters after TV licence axed?

Households in France will no longer have to pay for an annual TV licence after parliament approved scrapping the annual €138 per household charge, meaning that this November the usual tax bill will simply not arrive.

The measure is part of a €65 billion package of financial aid to help people cope with the spiralling cost of living.

Revealed: What will you get from the cost-of-living package?

But abolishing the TV licence was not without its critics, while questions remain over the future funding of France’s public service broadcasters.

The €138 annual fee has been used to finance the TV and radio channels in the public sector.

It raises €3.7 billion a year – 65 percent of which is allocated to France Télévisions, 15.9 percent to Radio France, 7.5 percent to Arte, 7 percent to France Médias Monde, 2.4 percent to audiovisual archive agency INA and 2.1 percent to TV5 Monde, a Senate report revealed.

TV licence funding currently supplies about half of the total turnover of France Télévisions, while the rest comes from advertising.

Proposing the licence fee cut, president Emmanuel Macron said he wanted to define a budget “with multi-year visibility”, with fixed financing amounts. But, no long-term concrete plans are currently in place.

The government has said there is no question of public service broadcasters losing money, insisting it will replace the licence fee “euro for euro” with public subsidies financed by VAT. 

This model, however, is guaranteed only to the end of 2024 – after which the government will have to present different financing strategies to Parliament.

Despite the bill passing, Senators lined-up to criticise the absence of a concrete long-term funding strategy.

Les Républicains’ Jean-Raymond Hugonet said the plans were being pushed through too quickly for populist reasons and argued it was a change that should have come with a definitive public broadcasting strategy. 

Socialist senator David Assouline said Malak had “hailed the glory” of French public broadcasting but was “creating the conditions to weaken it”.

Assouline has long been a critic of the plan. “From the moment there is no more dedicated funding and we have to draw from the general state budget, we will end up being told that it all costs too much and that we have to cut expenses, close a channel, or even, as we already hear sometimes, privatise,” he told a demonstration against the plans in July.

Concerned staff at France Télévisions and Radio France went on strike at the end of June in protest at the changes, saying that getting rid of the fee amounted to a “threat” to the independence of the channels in question. 

Unions and cultural experts have expressed concern about the possibility that broadcasters’ independence would be eroded if financing was at the whim of the government of the time. Bruno Patino, the head of Arte France, has told AFP that he feared for his channel’s future if the funding model changed.

Another critic, cultural economist Françoise Benhamou told Le Monde: “The disadvantage of budgeting is that we are much less protected from the vagaries of politics, since the latter decides on the budget.”

And LFI MP and journalist Clémentine Autain said in July: “This is a highly political and dangerous measure. Democracy needs a strong public audiovisual service, with a fair financing system that guarantees independence.”

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