Tens of millions of viewers around the world could be deprived of live images of the 70th anniversary commemorations of D-Day because of a decision by the French presidency to allow host broadcasters to charge international news agencies for access.
Public broadcaster France Televisions and private station TF1 have been granted exclusive live rights to the June 6 commemorations that will be attended by 19 heads of state and government, including Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and U.S. President Barack Obama.
In an unprecedented move, the two companies are seeking nearly 200,000 euros ($265,000) from Agence France-Presse, the Associated Press, Reuters and ENEX (a global network of private tv stations), for the rights to re-transmit the ceremonies live, including on the Internet.
The four companies have challenged the proposed fees, insisting that access to ceremonies commemorating a historic event of such global importance should be free.
The office of French President Francois Hollande had initially indicated that there would be free access but later reneged on that decision.
The agencies have pointed out that D-Day veterans who are unable to travel to Normandy for the commemorations could be among those who will be deprived of the opportunity to watch ceremonies intended to celebrate their heroism and the sacrifice of their fallen comrades.
"The restrictions imposed on the international agencies for the coverage of the D-Day commemorations are incomprehensible," said Philippe Massonnet, AFP's global news director.
"The commercialisation of this historic event is shocking."
AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll added: "We are dismayed that the Elysee Palace is denying the Associated Press and other international news agencies fair access to live broadcast coverage of D-Day commemorations, which will be attended by world leaders and hundreds of veterans.
"By granting access to only a few select channels and charging prohibitive sums, millions of viewers around the world will be unable to witness this historic, global event, the solemnity of which will reflect the commitment of an international array of forces 70 years ago."
The agencies have lodged a formal protest with the French presidency and are continuing to lobby for a last-minute change of policy.
But AP, AFP and Reuters also warned their clients on Friday that they may not be able to provide them with live pictures on the 6th.
Both TF1 and France Television however insisted the sum charged would be lower than that cited by the news agencies.
TF1 deputy news director Catherine Nayl said: "We will provide the signal to every international channel that has requested for it."
Yannick Letranchant, who is in charge of the case at France Televisions, also said: "The entire world would be able to watch this ceremony without any problems."
He said that access for an agency would cost about 32,000 euros for an entire day, adding out that if his company had been seeking to cover the cost of covering such an event, the sum sought for access would have been "much higher".
Nayl also underlined that the channels would have to spend "several hundreds of thousands of euros" to cover the event.
In a statement issued Friday night, the French presidency said "all viewers around the world would have direct access and in totality to all the images of the June 6 ceremonies."
It added that foreign channels will get access to the images free and that the parameters to obtain the satellite feed can be "provided to any foreign channel that requests for them."
Nevertheless, for channels that rely on agencies for direct feeds, the operation could yet prove to be costly and complicated in terms of satellite links.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]