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TV boss stands up for the autonomy of state-owned French TV.

Translated Sunday 13 July 2008, by Maud Gillet

Patrick de Carolis, the CEO of the state-owned television company France Televisions, has broken his silence and spoken out in response to the pronouncements made by President Sarkozy during an interview on the public channel France 3.


It hardly comes as news that Nicolas Sarkozy should frequently display an interest in the media – which show him great interest in return. However it is one more instance of Sarkozy going too far that he should see himself fit to run a channel and to decide on the choice of programmes. This has led Carolis, the CEO of the public television corporation France Télévisions, to speak out.

Sarkozy’s tempestuous interview on France 3’s evening news did not go down well with Carolis, who did not mince words during his own morning radio interview with Jean Michel Apathie. Let’s rewind: on 25 June, Sarkozy by-passed the conclusions of the Commission Copé on the new direction in television by announcing that he personally wished that the CEO of France Télévisions be appointed by the French government’s executive branch. For those who are still in doubt, the state’s executive branch is President Sarkozy himself.

Carolis took up the gauntlet against Sarkozy’s provocative stance yesterday, stating his disagreement with the president’s views that public TV programmes are too similar to private TV programmes. Carolis claimed that “in the 35years since I’ve been in the TV business, my professional code of conduct has always been autonomy from my shareholders, whether in private or state-owned companies. When someone says that there is no difference between public and private broadcasters, I think they are wrong, I think they are stupid, and I think they are unfair, deeply unfair.”

Shortly after, he evaluated the reduction in France Télévisions’ predicted revenue, taking into account the compensatory payment made by the state to reduce the drop in profits caused by its decision to remove advertising on public channels between 8pm and 6am from 1 January 2009. The public broadcasters’ boss explained “I believe that our present budget cannot fund our large scale future projects” and added that his team would work with the government’s team throughout the summer.

As if to secure a safe exit if things went wrong, he warned that “at the end of the summer, some time in September, we shall see if it all tallies up. If it does, I’ll take it as a victory and will let it be known. It things don’t tally up, I shall act accordingly”. He further explained that “no one is expected to achieve the impossible! So if at any point I realize that I’m prevented from doing my job and that as a corporation of public broadcasters we are prevented from carrying out large-scale projects, I will speak out and say no.”

Carolis insisted on what he calls “the two defining qualities” of his life: “there’s being professional, i.e.: dealing with budgets, spending what’s needed to see through big projects, and there’s being independent. After coming across certain comments here and there, I feel it’s important for me to repeat that I will never – be sure of it – never yield to pressures as regards my programmes’ schedules. I will never subject any concept for a broadcast to the approval of someone outside the corporation. This had to be said and it’s as simple as that.”

Carolis’s radio interview has elicited quite a few responses. The Minister for Culture, Christine Albanel, considered his critical words as regrettable and spoke in defence of the state’s “generous” funding as well as of the recommendations made by the Copé Commission. It is necessary, she asserted, to leave behind “such spleen” and “melodrama” regarding the removal of advertising at France Televisions.

Frederic Lefèbvre, one of the gunslingers of the ruling right-wing party the UMP, showed no sign of spleen, however, when he urged Patrick de Carolis’s team “to start working on the content of the future France Télévisions”. As for Lefèbvre’s colleague, the president of the UMP Jean-Francois Copé, he stated that he could vouch for the pledges made by his Commission on the project of building the new France Télévisions, on its content, its cultural framework, on creativity and funding.” But how strong is Copé in comparison with the will of the omnipotent president?

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