France's President Emmanuel Macron gestures as he holds a press conference during an European Council in Brussels on June 23, 2022. - European Union leaders on June 23, 2022 agreed to grant "candidate status" to Ukraine and Moldova, in a show of support in the face of Russia's war, EU chief Charles Michel said. (Photo by JOHN THYS / AFP)

It should be one of the first campaign promises that French President Emmanuel Macron implements after his re-election and the vote in the National Assembly: the abolition of the broadcasting fee. With this, Macron’s government wants to strengthen the purchasing power of the French in times of rising prices and inflation. After the parliamentary elections, it is unclear whether and how quickly his law to increase purchasing power, in which the abolition is to be decided, can really come about. Macron only received a relative majority and is still trying to figure out how he will govern – whether in a coalition or with changing majorities.

But France Télévisions workers and other industry workers have criticized the plans. They worry about future funding, the independence of the public service media and a possible restructuring. Several unions have announced a strike at the public radio and television networks Radio France and France Télévisions for next Tuesday.

Every French household that owns a television or similar device – with the exception of those on social security benefits – has to pay 138 euros a year as a license fee in France. That is almost 80 euros less than in Germany, where the annual amount is around 220 euros. So far, the levy in France has been linked to the residential tax, which has already been abolished for 2023. Similar to Germany, the contributions are divided between the public radio and television stations and the audiovisual national archive INA. Arte, financed jointly by Germany and France, also receives part of its budget from this pot.

At the start of his election campaign in early March, Macron announced that he wanted to abolish the fee if he was re-elected. The conservative Républicains and the right-wing extremist candidates Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour had also spoken out in favor of it in the run-up to the presidential elections. With the difference that Le Pen and Zemmour also wanted to privatize a large part of the stations.

When asked last Tuesday about a possible privatization, the new culture minister, Rima Abdul Malak, who is also responsible for the media, emphasized: “This is absolutely not our project.” said Malak.

Nevertheless, the concern of those affected is great. “Macron’s decision is really the first act of an impending privatization,” wrote screenwriter and producer Jacques Kirsner in a recent op-ed for Le Monde newspaper, strongly criticizing the abolition plans.

During the election campaign, Macron promised that the budget for the broadcasters could be guaranteed in the future through a multi-year financing plan that would be determined in the budget. Critics fear that this could jeopardize independence. The concern is that politicians could then turn the money supply on or off, depending on how satisfied they are.

The trade union CFDT France Télévisions, which represents around 14,000 employees, is therefore calling for a universal, earmarked contribution in the future, as in Germany. This earmarked funding is necessary to “remain at the forefront of the fight against fake news and defend high quality and independent journalism,” the union writes.

Then there is concern for a major restructuring and merger of various broadcasters. A recent Senate report, drafted by two senators from the conservative Républicains, advocated merging the public broadcasters France Télévisions, Radio France, France Médias Monde and the INA archive. The President of Radio France spoke out against it. Creating a public conglomerate will not lead to more efficiency or more agility, she said.

Where the debate will lead is currently still completely open. It will also largely depend on the future government constellation. Should Macron actually work with the conservative Republicans on many legislative projects, as is likely. Then the abolition of the license fee could soon be decided. In any case, one thing is foreseeable: You will have to reckon with the resistance of many employees.