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Radio rift as France runs out of French music

Ben McPartland · 29 Sep 2015, 14:14

Published: 29 Sep 2015 14:14 GMT+02:00

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Numerous radio stations in France on Tuesday tore up the rule book and ignored a 21-year-old law that forces them to play a minimum amount of French language music.

The 24-hour protest is being led by independent radio stations and those in the Lagardere group like RTL, NRJ and Europe1.

That 1994 law laid down the rule that 40 percent of songs played on radio stations must be in French and was aimed at protecting homegrown Gallic talent from the rapid invasion of Anglo influences.

But a recent amendment to that law has got DJs frothing at their microphones and prompted this week's  24-hour rebellion. As well as the strike, listeners have also been encouraged to phone Prime Minister Manuel Valls.

The amendment, backed by France’s Minister of Culture Fleur Pellerin (pictured below), was brought in after MPs claimed stations were flouting the quota law and simply playing the same old French songs just to meet the quotas.

(France's Culture Minister Fleur Pellerin. Photo: AFP)

From now on the ten most played French songs on the radio will only count towards 50 percent of the quota, meaning DJs will have to rummage around their record boxes to find other Gallic tracks. It is hoped the amendment will encourage them to play one or two extra tracks.

But the heads of radio stations have gone on the war path, accusing the minister of culture of lying and defaming them. They say the new amendment is an attack on their liberty.

They also claim the move will simply push music lovers towards streaming channels like Deezer and Spotify, which are not subject to any quotas.

Tareq Mami from the union Sirti, which represents 40 independent radio stations told The Local that it was ridiculous to not oblige internet sites to follow the same rules.

"It's like introducing a law whereby Renault cars can go through all red traffic lights but Peugeot cars have to wait through two red lights before they can move on," he said.

"The law is already difficult for us without this new amendment."

Emmanuel Rials president of the rock music station Oui FM said: “It’s not for MPs to tell us what we can and cannot broadcast,”  

“This puts us under artistic supervision;" Rials told Le Monde.

“We are suffering because of these quotas as listeners go to places where they can listen to what they want,” said Jean-Eric Vallis, chairman of Indés Radios umbrella group.

But the real reason that has led to the dispute arising is the huge decline in French music, or at least music in the French language.

While many French artists like Daft Punk and David Guetta have proved a success, they are opting to sing in English so as to widen their appeal beyond France.

(French music duo Daft Punk. Photo: AFP)

Story continues below…

From 2003 to 2014 there was a 66 percent drop in albums produced in French to the point that a staggering 83 percent of French music is produced in English.

And between 2009 and 2014 the number of new songs produced in French fell by 47 percent, according to Indés Radios.

So while the old 1994 quotas remain in force, the choice of French music that radio stations have at hand is drying up.

Although these figures are disputed by many in the record industry, with the umbrella organisation SNEP claiming twice as many albums were produced in French in 2014 compared to 2013.

They claim radio stations have killed “musical diversity” and have backed the new amendment, which still needs government backing before it becomes law.

“This is a breakthrough for musical creation that does not at all hinder the editorial freedom of the radios,” said a joint statement by ten artists and organisations.

Ben McPartland (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

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