French workers strike over Sarkozy plan

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PARIS -- French public service television and radio workers went on strike Wednesday in protest of President Nicolas Sarkozy's plans to rid the country's state-run TV channels of advertising. Nearly 1,000 strikers gathered at Paris' Place de l'Alma then marched together to the Champs-Elysees, according to union estimates.

Sarkozy surprised the Gallic media sector last month when he announced plans to ban advertising on state-owned France Televisions Group channels France 2, France 3, France 4 and France 5 by Jan. 1, 2009.

Sarkozy plans to make up for the drop in revenue with a tax on both France's private TV networks and new media, including mobile and Internet. However, unions fear that state broadcasters risk serious financial losses and as well as a dip in audience shares as a result of such a dramatic change.

Eight unions representing the 11,000 employees on the public networks rallied terrestrial channels France 2 and France 3, news network France 24, Canal France International, Radio France, RFI and RFO for the 24-hour strike. Gallic journalists union the SNJ supported the protest and yesterday called on "the ensemble of media professionals to mobilize to fight for the survival of public service broadcasting," the group said in a statement.

News programs on Radio France frequencies and France Televisions networks were cancelled and replaced with music or unusual programming. France 2, for example, aired an episode of "Friends" instead of its Telematin morning news show and cancelled its 1 p.m. newscast as well. Other "stock" programs aired as scheduled.

This is the biggest strike in the sector since 1974, when former national state broadcaster ORTF divided into separate radio and TV outlets.

France Televisions employees fear that some of the group's channels will be privatized, though the government has been actively denying such a rumor.

"The perimeters of France Televisions will be maintained, there will be no privatization and the lost revenue, evaluated at around 1.2 billion euros ($1.75 billion), will be compensated for euro by euro," Sarkozy's government said in a statement yesterday.

Strikers are hoping their protests will force Sarkozy's government into giving them a clear plan for offsetting revenues losses from an ad-free public broadcasting system.

"(Pubcaster employees) shouldn't be worried. We want to work together to create a public service television of quality," French Cultural Minister Christine Albanel told French cable network LCI Wednesday. "The financing, after the disappearance of advertising, will be assured. Everything will be compensated for euro by euro, public television won't be impoverished."

The strike is not expected to last more than 24 hours.

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