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French radio goes to war with language quotas in fight for musical freedom

AFP (file photo) | French law says that 40 percent of songs played on radio stations must be in the French language

Music radio stations in France are locked in a battle with the government over laws that force them to play a certain number of French-language songs on the airwaves, with some now planning a day-long boycott of the regulations.

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A law introduced in 1994 stipulates that at least 40 percent of songs played on radio stations must be in French, introduced as part of efforts to stem the encroachment of English into French culture and give a helping hand to homegrown talent.

But authorities, led by French Culture Minister Fleur Pellerin, have now accused radio stations of simply playing the same handful of popular French tracks – such as those by international stars Stromae and Serge Gainsbourg – over and over in order to fill the quota.

This leads to a lack of range and diversity on the airwaves and means “new talent no longer has a chance to be heard by the public”, French MPs said earlier this month when drafting an amendment to the law designed to combat the problem.

The amendment, which still needs government approval, would mean that the 10 French-language songs most played on the radio could only make up a maximum of half the stations’ francophone song quota.

The stations will stay play songs by French artists but they will be “the French songs that listeners want to hear, not those imposed by quotas”, argued Jean-Eric Valli chariman of the independent radio station interest group Indés Radios.

‘Killing liberty’

Other stations taking part in the boycott include major broadcasters Europe 1, RFM, Virgin Radio, NRJ and RTL.

They have described the proposed change in the law as “killing liberty” and accused MPs of having ulterior motives.

"Make no mistake about it, this has nothing to do with diversity or defence of the French language,” they said in joint statement. “It is about defending particular economic interests of the record industry.”

The stations have been particularly vexed by comments in support of the amendment by Pellerin, who on Monday accused them of having “not respected [the quota laws] up to now”.

“In place of having the quotas filled by just 10 tracks, they will be filled with 11 or 12,” she said of the proposed change to the law. “I don’t believe this will result in the calling into question anyone’s fundamental liberties.”

It is not the first time broadcasters have protested against the controversial quota regulations. Earlier this year, a host of radio stations called for the quota to be lowered in the face of the “collapse” of the number of songs being recorded in the French language, with homegrown artists increasingly choosing to sing in English to boost their commercial appeal.

They cited a report by the French Observatory of Music that the number of songs recorded in French fell by 51.4 percent in 2014.

"While the French production source has undoubtedly dried up over the years, radio stations are still subjected to the same quotas introduced in 1994,” they said.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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