Angelique Chrisafis / London Telegraph | June 27, 2008

Nicolas Sarkozy’s plans to increase government control over state TV yesterday sparked an outcry from his political opponents who accused him of tightening a Berlusconi-style grip on the airwaves and dragging France back into its dark age of postwar censorship and propaganda.

The French president’s proposed “cultural revolution” for France’s five state TV channels prompted an uproar when he announced that in future, he and his cabinet would appoint the head of French state TV, instead of an independent body.

Sarkozy, known as the Téléprésident, prides himself on his numerous TV appearances, carefully studies his own ratings and has privately confided that he would have liked to have been a TV executive. So it was no surprise that he took direct control of the project to overhaul French state TV. He argued that a government appointment of the head of France Televisions was more “democratic”. This has reopened the festering row over the president’s influence over the media and closeness to his press and TV baron friends who are willing to lean on, censor or even sack journalists who displease him.

Last month, a fresh row erupted after Sarkozy was accused of influencing the appointment of a newsreader, Laurence Ferrari, to the leading private channel TF1, run by one of the his closest friends. Her ousted predecessor was rumoured to have upset the president, who is conscious of his height, by asking if he ever felt “like a little boy in a big boy’s playground”.

The left-leaning daily Liberation yesterday ran a front page headline: “France Sarkovision”. Staff at state TV and radio unfurled banners saying “Television hold-up” in protest against any future government appointment of their boss.

“This is the methodical organisation of a propagandist strategy to control the media. It’s low-grade Berlusconi,” said the socialist MP Arnaud Montebourg. “Unlike Silvio Berlusconi in Italy, Nicolas Sarkozy doesn’t have the means to buy the television stations he dreams of. Instead, he has decided to take control of them, with a striking mix of brutality and cynicism,” said an editorial in Le Monde.

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