* TF1 will appeal decision to block shift to free-to-air
* 60 pct of staff will be let go
* LCI may be turned into an online video channel
* TF1 says LCI not for sale (Adds statement from potential buyer of LCI)
By Gwénaëlle Barzic
PARIS, Sept 23 (Reuters) - French broadcaster TF1 plans to lay off 148 of the staff at news channel LCI, or 60 percent of the total, in response to a July regulatory decision not to allow it to shift the channel from paid to free-to-air.
TF1 also said it had filed an appeal to the country's highest administrative court to overturn the ruling made by the CSA broadcast regulator.
LCI, which launched 20 years ago as France's first 24-hour news channel, is trailing behind its free-to-air rivals iTele, owned by Canal+, and BFM TV from NextRadioTV. TF1 had hoped for permission to stop charging for the channel so as to attract more viewers and advertisers.
"TF1 considers that the future of LCI in its current format can only be envisaged on free television and that it has strong grounds for an appeal," said the company in a statement on Tuesday.
But TF1 has so far stopped short of shutting the channel completely, something CEO Nonce Paolini has warned was a possibility. Instead it presented a plan to LCI unions that would shift LCI from a 24-hour news channel to a paid online portal, stocked with video clips and programming.
"This marks the end of LCI as a real-time news channel to be replaced by a product that for the moment has no certain distribution," Emmanuel Raoul, a union representative at the channel, said.
According to the unions, Paolini also said LCI was not for sale.
The owners of French daily Le Monde had earlier expressed interest in buying the channel or some of its assets. In a statement on Tuesday, the owners - industrialist Pierre Berge, telecoms billionaire Xavier Niel and investment banker Matthieu Pigasse - said they remained interested in buying LCI and regretted no discussions had taken place with TF1.
"The proposal we made to TF1 called for us to keep onboard all the journalists at LCI," the trio said. "We remain at the disposal of TF1, the staff of LCI and the CSA to discuss and finalise such a deal." (Writing by Leila Abboud; Editing by Michael Urquhart and David Holmes)
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