THE FRENCH AND BRITISH MEDIA

Introduced by Professor Michael Scriven, University of Bath, on 18 October l999

The aims of the talk were broadly to give a structural analysis of French and British media, a historical analysis of French media, and a survey of contemporary audio-visual broadcasting in France and Britain, followed by a speculative look at the future.

There is one fundamental difference and one fundamental similarity between the media in France and Britain. The difference is the high level of state/governmental involvement and interface in the media in France compared to the relative independence and autonomy of the media in Britain. The similarity is the global liberal market context in which both the French and the British media currently operate.

With regard to the historical development of the media (press, radio, television) in France, the French organisational model of state intervention is seen to operate in all three media. Historically, Paris had a flourishing press in the thirties, with Le Petit Parisien selling a million copies a day, but the post-war years have seen the decline of the French national press. The regions, however, all have flourishing local papers. State radio lost its monopoly after the many pirate radio stations, furiously pursued by Giscard, were licensed by the Socialists when they came to power in 1981. Television has evolved from being a state monopoly in 1948 to privatisation today.

Key features of contemporary audio-visual broadcasting were illustrated by extracts read from contributions to a recent book edited by Professor Scriven, relating to regulatory and political structures, programming, the new media, and the challenge of Europe.

Finally, some speculation on the future. Will audio-visual broadcasting be perceived as a democratising or trivialising process in the 21st century? And will the exponential growth of broadcasting and information technology in the 21st century have such a profound cultural impact as to strike at the very heart of French civilisation?

Among the points raised in discussion were: self-censorship perceived as necessary is in fact the same thing as government regulation; the young like the American influence so often deplored in France; and the Europeanisation of the media might be used either to promote national interests or to provide cultural diversity.

Anne Whitmarsh

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