French study blasts prod’n company

Accounting office claims group has 'uncertain future'

PARIS — The Cour des Comptes, France’s government accounting office, slammed the country’s ailing state-owned TV production company as a two-bit setup with an “uncertain future” in its annual report published Wednesday.

Describing the once-powerful Societe Francaise de Production as a “small business,” the report harshly criticizes the heavy state subsidies, financing which in some cases came illegally from TV license funds, and efforts at restructuring that have had little effect.

Org ‘collapse’

“Despite a considerable financial effort, the state has been unable to avoid the collapse of the SFP,” the report states.

Since 1992, the SFP has been earmarked twice for privatization, has had five chairmen and constistently has posted losses, while revenue over the past six years has shrunk 40%, falling from 780 million francs ($121 million) in 1993 to $73 million in 1998, falling further in 1999.

Downsizing from more than 2,000 staff members in 1989 to 996 in 1997 has cost the SFP $230,000 for every person laid off, the report goes on to say.

The company also has made ill-judged business decisions such as the purchase of another production company, bringing about a net loss of $15 million and the sale of its Paris headquarters, valued in 1992 at $61 million, for $25 million in ’97.

Burden of proof

The SFP will have to “prove its viability or else cease to be,” the report concludes.

Coming to the SFP’s defense, France’s Culture Minister, Catherine Trautmann, retorted that a “marked reduction in overheads made the 1998 restructuring plan perfectly credible.”

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