Isabelle Roughol – The J junkie

The tribulations of a young journalist and writer looking for work

Sarkozy’s media reform plan: some good ideas, with one big blunder

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Let me once again be your guide to the French media circus.

Our president Nicolas Sarkozy, who must love the media since he’s talking to it twice a day it seems, has proposed a media reform. He wants to create a parent company to bring together three public broadcasts: RFI, the France-based, worldwide, 19-language public radio network; TV5 Monde, a TV station that airs programming from French-language stations all over the world; and France 24, a 24-hour news channel airing in French, English and Arabic that was created in Dec. 2006, the brainchild of Sarkozy’s predecessor Jacques Chirac.

The project’s already got a name, France Monde, and guess what? It’s already got a wiki page.

The idea is far from stupid. It brings together the resources and advertising revenues of 3 major networks for a projected total budget of 400 million euros. The service could become more coherent, more comprehensive and the networks would share their audiences.

Wait, did I say “advertising revenue”? My mistake. That’s the other thing: Mr. Sarkozy wants to drop all advertising from public television to improve its quality, citing the BBC as a model. (Now that I think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever seen advertising on the BBC.)

Here, I should paint you a picture of France’s television landscape. It’s not like in the States where three major private networks battle it out, with cable on their heels, and the public service — though of great quality — gets the crumbs (political activists and public schools). French public television is a major contender; it’s channels 2, 3, 4 and 5 against the private channels 1 (TF1) and 6 (M6), which are partnered. That kind of competition takes major money. It hurts to make the Brits a compliment, but it’s true their public service is much better than ours. But couldn’t improvements be made without dropping advertising? Mr. Sarkozy proposes a tax on TV sets and something else to compensate the loss. Sure. I too thought it was too easy doing business in a country where 45 percent of the national income is redistributed through taxes. Let’s go for another percentage point.

I should also mention that Mr. Sarkozy is best buddy with Martin Bouygues, the owner of TF1, which stands to gain up to 400 millions euros in advertising transfers. Hard to believe in the sincerity of the proposal.

Back to the France Monde plan. Mr. Sarkozy is getting a lot of heat for it from other world leaders; he may have forgotten in his plan that TV5 is a joint venture with Canada, Belgium and Switzerland, and he doesn’t get to make all the decisions. They’re not so keen on funding programming that would come almost entirely from France.

But while I could see good points to all these proposals so far, there is one that just gets my ranting going. A member of the committee that drafted the France Monde project called it, in a Le Monde article back in November, an “alternative to CNN and Al-Jazeera.” It’s about putting France on the map of international news networks. Wonderful. Note that it’s exactly what France 24 was created for.

That’s all great, but how do you plan on doing that when Mr. Sarkozy has declared that France Monde should only air in French?!

“With taxpayers’ money, I am not prepared to broadcast a channel that does not speak French,” Sarkozy told journalists at a press conference earlier this month. (The Guardian)

That’s right. Bu-bye RFI’s 19 languages, France 24’s ambitious 3-language launch. Should we also drop the Quebec accent on TV5? Ridiculous. We’re not back in 1680, and all the elites of the world do not speak French fluently. Even an English-only network would be short-sighted if you ask me. RFI has a great program to teach French in all the countries it covers, with news bulletin in simplified French and lessons on the air. But how do you turn people on to learning French if you don’t first get to them in their own language?

Full disclosure: I just applied for an internship with France 24, and I’d rather not that my advantage of being fully bilingual become moot. I’d also rather not that thousands of multi-lingual correspondents around the world become unemployed. But beyond that, I’d rather not that my own country close up like a shell and multiply the demagogic, defensive actions against the supposed barbaric hordes at its doorstep. It is this very fear that shows our decline.

And Mr. Sarkozy, if really you want to defend the French Word, I’m still waiting on a French as a Second Language program in all public schools.

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Written by Isabelle Roughol

Saturday, 26 January, 2008 at 22:47

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