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Sarkozy Overhauls Public Broadcasting In France


This fall, the longest serving anchorman in France, a virtual icon of the French nightly news, will not be seen. His replacement on the country's most popular news show is rumored to have been chosen personally by the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy. For the president's critics, it's just the latest proof that he is trying to control the media, and Eleanor Beardsley sent us this report.



PATRICK POIVRE D: (French spoken).

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: For the last 21 years, Patrick Poivre d'Arvor has been the face of the French Nightly News. Widely known by his initials as PPDA, the anchorman brought the world into French living rooms. That all changed this September.


LAURENCE FERRARI: (French spoken).

BEARDSLEY: Top private television network TF1 abruptly replaced PPDA with 42-year-old anchorwoman Laurence Ferrari. While Ferrari is a talented veteran of radio and television, she's also 20 years younger than Poivre d'Arvor, physically striking and rumored to have had a liaison with Sarkozy. Ferrari has adamantly denied any such relationship, and says she is no pawn of the president.



FERRARI: (Through Translator) TFI's newsroom of more than 200 journalists is free and independent, and we'll prove that in the months to come. You can't last in this industry if you're only a pretty face. I think my years of fieldwork and political reporting count for something.

BEARDSLEY: In January, Sarkozy announced a major overhaul of the French public broadcasting system. By 2011, there will be no more advertising, and in the most controversial part of his reform, Sarkozy says he, and not the independent broadcasting regulator, will appoint the heads of public television and radio. Jean Francois Tialdi (ph), a union leader at public broadcaster France Televisions, says Sarkozy's reforms will impoverish public broadcasting and compromise its independence.

JEAN FRANCOIS TIALDI: (Through Translator) This is a return to 40 years ago when the political leaders chose the television directors. Back then, the public broadcasters didn't serve the people like it does today. It was basically state-run television like in Eastern Europe, and that's what Mr. Sarkozy is taking us back to.

BEARDSLEY: Just after Sarkozy announced his reform plans, shares in the private network TF1 shot up in anticipation of increased advertising revenue. Some believed Sarkozy's reform was aimed at helping his pals in the private sector. Others say the shake-up reflects the president's long-held ambition to build TF1 into a national champion, a French multimedia empire comparable to Germany's Bertelsmann, or Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. Those insiders also say Sarkozy wants to create a public broadcaster like Britain's BBC, with an international reputation independent of advertising revenue.

FRANCOIS TIALDI: Mr. Pinault (ph) is the owner of Le Point, which is a news magazine. Mr. Bollore, which is also a big capitalist in France, is the owner of television company, Direct 8...

BEARDSLEY: Jean-Louis Missika, a professor of media studies at Paris' Institute of Political Science, lists the French millionaire industrialists who also own television stations, newspapers and magazines. He says Sarkozy's attempt to influence the media is a French tradition.

MISSIKA: All the media have complex relationship with the political power. What is new with Sarkozy is the frankness with which he's doing the same kind of relationship, the fact that he is not hiding to do that.

BEARDSLEY: Sarkozy says French public broadcasting is bloated and inefficient, and his overhaul will make it more competitive. But left-leaning newspaper, Liberacion, called the president's reform a pretext to turn France television into France Sarkovision (ph). For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Paris.


INSKEEP: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.