University of Rennes 2
Professor Pierre Musso, focused his attention on the effects of the reform adopted by the Sarkozy government in March 2009 which removed advertising from France Télévisions.
His analysis begins with an examination of the history of French television, which exhibits three different views of pluralism: from 1950 to 1975 pluralism meant the public monopoly, from 1975 to 1995 pluralism was identified with the plurality of operators in the field, while from 1995 to 2010 (in particular with the law of March 9th 2009) pluralism has come to be seen as competition with a strong defence of private media groups and with a fragmentation of the audiovisual field which has been accentuated with the introduction of digital terrestrial television. From the monolithic dominant block that it was, French television is evolving in the direction of total fragmentation and there are two paradoxical consequences of this: on one hand the more the public sector is weakened, the more its obligations are reinforced, and on the other hand the more competition, digitization and the audience is increased, the more the public sector becomes regulated. Professor Musso also analyzed in detail the Law of March 2009 which introduced three reforms: above all the appointment and dismissal of the President of France Télévisions by the President of the Republic; then the creation of a "single company" which transforms the national television programming companies France 2, France 3, France 4, France 5 and RFO into services belonging to the France Télévisions group; and lastly the progressive phasing out of advertising. In order to renew public television it is therefore necessary to become free from these paradoxes thanks to a regulation of the audiovisual sector as a whole, which would apply to both the public and the private sectors.
Continuation of the real-time summary
General content of Professor Pierre Musso 's speech:
The French legal framework and the obligations of France Télévisions
The regulatory framework on French public television was shaken by the “historic reform” approved in March 2009 with a call by President Sarkozy for an “unprecedented renewal of the public audiovisual sector” and the announcement of the elimination of advertising revenues on France Télévisions. This reform is a further step in the ongoing policies of deregulation of the audiovisual sector that have been promoted in France and Europe for the last twenty years or so. The growth of public sector regulation is taking place in a setting characterized by generalized deregulation and the fragmentation of the audiences and players within the field of the development of digital services. Deregulation and digitization simultaneously affect the communication industries as a whole.
The Law of 5 March 2009 “on audiovisual communication and the new public service of television” modifies in some points that of September 30 1986: the so called “Léotard Law”, which remains the legal basis for audiovisual regulations. The former law relinquished the notion of a public service in favour of the “public sector” and François Léotard, the minister then in office, declared: “The public service is a star that has now declined, whose light continues to illuminate us, but that is now dead”!
1. The continual reduction in the field of public television
A. Three distinct periods can be identified in the process, which are related to three different conceptions of pluralism and the perimeter of the public service:
From 1950 to 1975, pluralism was identified with the public monopoly, which in turn was confused with the political monopoly exercised by the government over information and the education of citizens/TV-viewers. Public television, defined as “the voice of France” by President Pompidou, held 100% of the market share;
From 1975 to 1995, pluralism was identified with the plurality of operators in the field, the monopoly of programme scheduling was eliminated (in 1982), the audiovisual sector underwent deregulation, the TF1 public company was privatized (in 1987) and a mixed private/public system was created. Public television soon dropped to below 50% of the market share;
From 1995 to 2010, pluralism is identified with competition, paradoxically accompanied by the defence of private media groups defined as “the national champions”. Audiovisual fragmentation is accentuated with the introduction of digital terrestrial television, known as TNT (télévision numérique terrestre) which was launched in 2005 (it currently holds approximately 20% of the market share), while public television now has only 35% of the market share.
From the monolithic dominant block that is was, French television has evolved in the direction of “éclatement” or explosion and fragmentation: first of all with the multiplication of the new players that came in with deregulation, and later with the development of digital technologies and the arrival of “new entrants”.
B. The evolution of the concept of pluralism and the development of deregulation and digitization lead to two paradoxical, if not schizophrenic, consequences for public television:
A definition of its missions, duties and obligations, which becomes increasingly precise as the competition grows, and which is permanently seeking to re-establish its identity. The more the public sector weakens, the more the obligations arising from its public service remit are reinforced and clarified.
A sort of “return to the past” resulting from the strengthening of the control exercised by the government, a renewal of its “nationalization”, but within a context of fiercer competition. As competition and digitization increases, together with the fragmentation of the viewing audience of television networks (a trend which will intensify with the complete transition to digital), so does the regulation and nationalization of the public sector.
2. The Law of 5 March 2009 and the Decree on the “Cahier des charges” assigned to France Télévisions
While it was under a monopoly, the most prevalent definition of the role of the public service was “Informer cultiver, distraire” (the French for “inform, educate, entertain”), under the new regime of competition the obligations arising from the public service mission are multiplying and becoming more precise. The “liberalization” of audiovisual communication is accompanied by a more variegated and detailed definition of the public service missions and of the obligations relative to the offer scheduled on television networks.
A. The basis for these missions and obligations is defined in many texts. It is present in the Law of 30 September 1986, revised by Law of March 5 2009, but above all it is in the Contract on the objectives and means and in the “contractual specification of duties” within the Cahiers des charges assigned to France Télévisions by a government decree.
The Law of 5 March 2009 introduces three principal reforms:
The appointment and dismissal of the President of France Télévisions by the President of the Republic with the assent of the Conseil Supérieur de l'Audiovisuel (the French authority) and with the publicly expressed opinion of the Cultural Commission of the Parliament.
The creation of a “single company” which transforms the national television programming companies France 2, France 3, France 4, France 5 and RFO into services belonging to the France Télévisions group. The aim is to encourage the growth of means and assets in common (mutualisation des moyens) and to develop programmes for all the new media platforms and new supports (television, Internet, personal mobile telephony, VoD, catch-up TV), because public television has to become a “global medium.”
The progressive phasing out of advertising: initially from 8pm till 6am starting from January 2009, then in all time-slots with the complete transition to digital. Nevertheless there is still discussion about this total elimination. Ultimately public television is intended to be fully funded due to budgetary allocations from the state, to be defined on a yearly basis, in a very cogent context of public deficit. For the moment, no provision has been made to compensate for the total elimination of advertising after 2012.
This reform has a triple effect towards the nationalization of public services: the appointment of the President by decree, the dependence of the budget on those in political power, the missions and obligations set out in great detail by decree, including those relating to the details of programming schedules and time-slots. Many observers have spoken of a “return to ORTF”, or to the public service of the Gaullist era, but in a very different context of growing competition.
B. The new and single Cahier des charges of 23 June 2009 which establishes the remit and missions of the public service of France Télévisions, is the clear illustration of this nationalization. With 70 articles, it goes into all the details of programme scheduling, even those of the public networks. For example, Article 4 establishes that the company should broadcast at least one cultural programme every day in the early evening, while Article 19 establishes the hours of the prime time programming schedule: “Evening programmes must begin at around 8.35pm on all the France Télévisions networks so that the French people can all have access to a genuine second part of the evening beginning between 10pm and 10.30pm”.
In conclusion, we wish to underline the two paradoxes that agitate and shake the regulation of French television - and partly also European television. The first is pushing toward increased – and one might even say 'fussy' – regulation of public television as deregulation and digitization of the entire audiovisual sector increases and spreads. The second paradox tends to counter the economic principle of competition with industrial policies in support of our national “champions” or European private “sample” groups. In order to renew public television it is necessary to emerge from these paradoxes through a regulation of the audiovisual sector as a whole, which would apply to both the public and the private sector equally, regardless of the media supports and platforms used, and no longer exclusively through a sectorial approach which is limited to regulating the public service.
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