Why is the public broadcasting merger project reminiscent of the ORTF?

Why is the public broadcasting merger project reminiscent of the ORTF?

The proposed merger into a single entity of France Télévisions, Radio France, RFI and France 24 is undermining employees. It stands out against the competition, replies the Ministry of Culture.

In the absence of the morning show of the duo Nicolas Demorand and Léa Salamé, Josiane had to settle for a musical program by tuning her radio to France Inter, Thursday May 23. To keep in touch with the teams of her favorite shows, this loyal 76-year-old listener could have gone to Place Colette in the 1st arrondissement of Paris, a stone's throw from the Ministry of Culture. Around a hundred employees met there on this rainy day to oppose a proposed merger between France Médias Monde (Radio France Internationale and France 24), Radio France, INA and France Télévisions; project which the government wants to come into force on January 1, 2026. In the crowd, a sign set the tone: “Merger = idiot trap”.

It is an understatement to say that the consolidation of public broadcasting desired by the government worries the editorial staff concerned. The day before, 1,400 Radio France employees expressed their questions in a column sent to the daily newspaper The world. Aurélien, an RFI journalist present during the demonstration, is no less worried than his sisters and brothers from the Maison de la radio et de la musique: “We produce very specific information since the vast majority of our audience is out of France. We risk losing subtlety by approaching these other editorial offices which do not produce the same content. This is what happened to BBC World Service, the British group's international radio station. »

A “French-style BBC”, however, is the concept promoted by the Minister of Culture, Rachida Dati, under the name France Médias. End of May, in the weekly La Tribune Sundaythe Parisian elected official (ex-LR) praised the British juggernaut “whose qualities have not suffered in any way from the convergence of forces” and considered the project necessary to create synergy between public groups, but, above all, to fight against the omnipotence of digital platforms like Disney+ and Netflix.

An already old project

The idea of ​​a regrouping of public broadcasting – as was the case with the RTF from 1949 to 1964, then the ORTF between 1964 and 1974 – did not wait for the democratization of these American giants to come to fruition. spirit of our leaders. The creation of a holding company – a company controlling several national and international entities – had already been recommended by a senatorial mission in 2015, before being supported by Nicolas Sarkozy during the 2016 presidential campaign. Emmanuel Macron had also pleaded in 2017 for such a rapprochement before the project fell into oblivion due to the health crisis, three years later.

Aurélien is surprised at the vagueness surrounding this upheaval. “We still don’t know all the details,” says this delegate from the National Union of Journalists. But what is certain is that this merger will take several years and require additional costs, even as the State seeks to make savings to reduce the public deficit. » The RFI journalist, who has returned to work like the entire editorial team, hopes that the movement will resume with a vengeance when it is examined in the National Assembly in June.

A political risk

For the generation of the Trente Glorieuses, bringing together all public broadcasting in the same entity also seems quite anachronistic. “It gives a bit of the feeling of going back to the days of the ORTF,” breathes Josiane, who supports the demonstrators. Alexis Lévrier shares this feeling of going back in time. In the eyes of this media historian, this measure could signify the reestablishment of “a convenient tool for power” and “greater verticality with a single president for all public media.” As the text of the parliamentary commission provides, the CEO could be appointed by the Regulatory Authority for Audiovisual and Digital Communication (Arcom), an independent French public body. An “audiovisual policeman” whose functioning depends in part on the head of state, who appoints the president.

Alexis Lévrier points out a major political risk behind the creation of this French media colossus. In the event of authoritarian drift, the researcher from the University of Reims believes that it will be easier to bring a single entity into line rather than several distinct groups. “It is a reform launched in haste. In countries like Poland and Hungary, we were able to see how public broadcasting could be put at the service of political power. » France had a taste of the ORTF days and Josiane has no nostalgia for it.

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