France Insider/Paul Ben-Itzak

November 25, 2008

Pirate Radio: The news is on strike to protest the elimination of commercials

I guess it’s no surprise that after reporting last night that the teachers, the students, the parents, the train workers, and the emergency hospital workers are on strike, the News decided to join the party this morning, presumably taking the weather with it. (There was only one mishap of mal-coordination; apparently the transport workers who decided to call a Flash strike in Bordeaux last week forgot to tell the teachers, delaying the start of the demonstration.) Thus the hourly 15 minute and half hourly ten minute newscasts on France Culture this morning were replaced by randomly mixed top 40 music, the news team calling in sick to protest a government proposition to eliminate commericals from the four public television stations after 8 p.m. . (As strikes in France often mean not that the employees don’t show up for work, but that they show up but just don’t work, my theory is that it’s the errant newscasters who are torturing us with the randomly mixed music.) Curiously enough, the theme on this morning’s France Culture program — host Ali Badou and the commentators apparently got notes excusing them from not showing up for work — is pirates. So maybe the News is actually being held hostage by Somalia-based corsaires. (Perhaps we can keep the commericals going long enough to collect ransom, anyway.)

The plan to strip commericals from public television, my two regular readers will recall, was launched by President Sarkozy at a press conference earlier this year, in a deft move to deflect reporters’ attention from the fact that the candidate for purchase power had turned into the president of the empty treasury. (Although I guess if we have no money with which to buy, maybe it’s best to eliminate commercials which tempt us with the cars, vacations, and sheepherd tended cheese beyond our reach.) Why is this cause for grievance among audio-visual workers? It’s not that they love commericials, apparently, but that they’re worried about how the State will replace that money and, worse, that the solution — more money directly from the State — will return public television to the days of old, when there was, as non-striking commentator Alain-Gerard Slama put it today, a general inside every television (De Gaulle, not Electric). And indeed, in addition to taking away commercials, President Sarkozy wants to give to himself the power to appoint the president of the France Television uber-network which supervises the public television stations. (Il faut dire que the president did have a good point when he said it’s hard to tell the difference between ‘public’ television and ‘private’; the one broadcasts Cold Case, the other Law & Order. There do seem to be more historical dramas on the public television France 2, most concerning an Occupied France peopled predominantly by heroes of the Resistance, the collaborators relegated to supporting roles. Recent history, from the Algerian War to the 2005 riots in the suburbs, are less frequently treated. As for France 3, the other main public television station, I love my nightly Marseille-set soap Plus Belle la Vie but it’s hardly something you’d find on Channel 13, the egg-heady NY public t.v. station.) Modem Party leader François Bayrou has piled on, saying he’d support a parliamentary resolution opposing the new audio -visual law, raising the question: How can he oppose opening stores on Sunday because we need to teach our children that there are more important things than consummation, on the one hand, and on the other oppose eliminating the commericals which install that ideology on a nightly basis? (The France Culture morning program has just terminated, seguaying into a rap song that begins with a word I can’t repeat without censoring: “N*****s are people.” Now it’s returning to the same mix played two hours ago. Evidently the newscasters just left an old mix tape, recorded off an AM top 40 broadcast.)

PS It seems that History is also on strike, Emmanuel Laurent’s daily France Culture program on that theme having been replaced this morning by afore-mentioned still-running mix tape.


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