Sarkozy works toward ad-free public TV

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PARIS -- French President Nicolas Sarkozy is working on taxing new media in order to set in motion previously announced plans for an ad-free public TV service.

Sarkozy said Thursday that the elimination of advertising on the country's public TV networks would be compensated for with "a tax on all new means of communication."

Mobile phones, computers and any form of TV-watching technology may see a 1%-2% tax implemented in the coming months. Such a tax could mean between 170 million euros and 340 million euros ($249 and $498 million) for an industry whose yearly turnover totals 17 billion euros ($25 billion).

The announcement comes after the country's major TV networks and media groups signed a charter Tuesday urging the development of France's mobile TV market.

The removal of commercials on public TV group France Televisions' networks would mean a loss of 830 million euros ($1.2 billion) in advertising revenue. The state plans to tax private channels TF1, M6 and Canal Plus to make up for the loss in this revenue.

A tax on new media would be complementary to the already imposed tax on personal televisions in France.

"No longer will anyone be able to say, 'The tyranny of ratings prevents me from airing programs adapted to public television,' " Sarkozy said.

However, according to head of the Center for Image and Sound at La Sorbonne and leading television analyst Francois Jost: "This doesn't necessarily mean the programs will be better. What will the point of television ratings be if there are no advertisements?"

France Televisions also will have to increase production costs to pay for an additional 2-3 hours of programming that will replace the time slot previously allotted to commercials. "I'm a bit skeptical. He's going to have a lot of difficulty," Jost said of Sarkozy, who is pushing for his ad-free plan to be put into place by Jan. 1, 2009.
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