Radio stations in France stage a boycott of Gallic songs after the government ordered them to play more native-language tunes to stem the invasion of English pop culture.
Radio stations in France on Tuesday staged a boycott of Gallic songs after the government ordered them to play more native-language tunes to stem the invasion of English pop culture.
Since 1994, at least 40 per cent of songs played on radio stations must be in French.
The government, led by Fleur Pellerin, the culture minister, has now beefed up the law after accusing radio stations of simply playing the same French songs to meet the quotas – such as those by revered French crooner Serge Gainsbourg.
The practice is stifling diversity on the airwaves and means “new talent no longer has a chance to be heard by the public”, French MPs warned earlier this month while debating an amendment designed to tackle the issue.
The new rule, which requires government approval, stipulates that the 10 most frequently aired French-language songs can only account for a maximum of half the stations’ francophone song quota – down from as much as 75 per cent today.
Ms Pellerin also accused music radio stations of not having “respected (the quota laws) until now”.
Producers’ and artists’ unions welcomed the amendment, describing it as a “major step forward for musical creativity that in now way stifles radio stations’ editorial freedoms” and would simply require stations to add “two new songs per month” to their programme.
But the country’s main private stations, including Europe 1, RFM, Virgin Radio, NRJ and RTL, slammed the amendment as “killing freedom”. On Tuesday, they announced they were suspending their “participation in the French-language quota system for 24 hours”.
The stations would continue to air songs by French artists, but only “those French songs that listeners want to hear, not those imposed by quotas”, said Jean-Eric Valli chairman of the independent radio station interest group Indés Radios.
The stations accuse the music majors of backing the changes in a bid to kill off radio and “push listeners towards totally unregulated, paid-for, on-demand streaming platforms in which they have a stake”.
“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.
They said production of French songs had plummeted by 60 per cent in the past decade, they said, meaning the choice was dwindling by the day.
Opposition politicians blasted the quota system as symptomatic of all that is wrong with the meddling French nanny state.
Philippe Vigier, head of the centrist UDI parliamentary group, said the new rules were “totally destroying freedom”.
“Let free radio stations decide how to draw up their programmes,” he said.
François Fillon, a former centre-Right prime minister and presidential hopeful, called the move “crazy control by the state of citizens and their freedoms”.
“For the past 30 years, successive governments have tried to protect the French from any risk … we’ve even tried to protect them from progress,” he said on France 2. “We’ve all gone too far. Today there is an accumulation of norms, controls, taxes and taboos in our country that makes it impossible for intelligence and innovation to shine through.”
Ms Pellerin retorted: “Instead of having the quotas filled by just 10 tracks, they will be filled with 11 or 12. I don’t believe this will result in the calling into question anyone’s fundamental liberties.”
This is not the first time broadcasters have protested against quota laws.
Earlier this year, a string of radio stations called for the ratio to be lowered due to the “collapse” in the amount of songs recorded in French today, with home-grown artists, such as Daft Punk or David Guetta, increasingly opting to sing in English to boost their global commercial appeal.
They cited a report by the French Observatory of Music that the number of songs recorded in French fell by 51.4 per cent 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 complained.