If you arrived for the first time in France today from the United States, and switched on the television tonight to watch Plus Belle la Vie, you’d probably never guess that the French network which broadcasts this nightly soap opera (to which I’m addicted) set in Marseille is a public one. It’s kind of like if PBS, the U.S. public television network, suddenly started showing Friends every night. You’d have even more difficulty distinguishing another public network, France 2, from the private chain TF1, whose programming is more or less of the same genre, except that France 2 broadcasts Cold Case where TF1 boasts Star Academy. The other big distinction is that unlike PBS, these stations are not in perpetual funding crises and not perpetually battling the government for their livelihood. Until now.
I didn’t realize all this until the French president, during a major press conference in January, tried to divert media attention from the loss of purchase power (when a reporter asked the previously self-proclaimed president of purchase power what steps he’d take to reduce the loss, he answered crisply, “How can I do anything when the cash register is empty?”) by announcing he wanted to see the elimination of commercials on public television. “What public television?” I thought, before realizing that notwithstanding showing the same car commercials as the private stations, France 2 and France 3 are exactly that. ‘Well, I thought, if they’re going to get rid of the commercials — tant mieux!” No, not tant mieux because where would these stations — not to mention public radio stations some of which allow some (mostly insurance) if not as many commercials as their t.v. brethren — get the money to replace the gadzillions of Euros brought in by the commercials (about 850 million in the case of the t.v. networks).
All of which is a long prelude to explain why this morning on France Culture, some of the news segments were replaced by very bad pop music, as the newscasters and many other broadcasters, in public radio and television, are on strike. Just as long as it ends by 20h20 tonight, I’m tranquil. C’est plus belle la vie, non?